Monday, November 5, 2007


New Arabian Nights by Robert Louis Stevenson

New Arabian Nights by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Suicide Club
The Rajah's Diamond
The Pavilion on the Links
A Lodging for the Night - a Story of Francis Villon
The Sire de Maletroit's Door
Providence and the Guitar
During his residence in London, the accomplished Prince Florizel of
Bohemia gained the affection of all classes by the seduction of his
manner and by a well-considered generosity. He was a remarkable
man even by what was known of him; and that was but a small part of
what he actually did. Although of a placid temper in ordinary
circumstances, and accustomed to take the world with as much
philosophy as any ploughman, the Prince of Bohemia was not without
a taste for ways of life more adventurous and eccentric than that
to which he was destined by his birth. Now and then, when he fell
into a low humour, when there was no laughable play to witness in
any of the London theatres, and when the season of the year was
unsuitable to those field sports in which he excelled all
competitors, he would summon his confidant and Master of the Horse,
Colonel Geraldine, and bid him prepare himself against an evening
ramble. The Master of the Horse was a young officer of a brave and
even temerarious disposition. He greeted the news with delight,
and hastened to make ready. Long practice and a varied
acquaintance of life had given him a singular facility in disguise;
he could adapt not only his face and bearing, but his voice and
almost his thoughts, to those of any rank, character, or nation;
and in this way he diverted attention from the Prince, and
sometimes gained admission for the pair into strange societies.
The civil authorities were never taken into the secret of these
adventures; the imperturbable courage of the one and the ready
invention and chivalrous devotion of the other had brought them
through a score of dangerous passes; and they grew in confidence as
time went on.
One evening in March they were driven by a sharp fall of sleet into
an Oyster Bar in the immediate neighbourhood of Leicester Square.
Colonel Geraldine was dressed and painted to represent a person
connected with the Press in reduced circumstances; while the Prince
had, as usual, travestied his appearance by the addition of false
whiskers and a pair of large adhesive eyebrows. These lent him a
shaggy and weather-beaten air, which, for one of his urbanity,
formed the most impenetrable disguise. Thus equipped, the
commander and his satellite sipped their brandy and soda in
The bar was full of guests, male and female; but though more than
one of these offered to fall into talk with our adventurers, none
of them promised to grow interesting upon a nearer acquaintance.
There was nothing present but the lees of London and the
commonplace of disrespectability; and the Prince had already fallen
to yawning, and was beginning to grow weary of the whole excursion,
when the swing doors were pushed violently open, and a young man,
followed by a couple of commissionaires, entered the bar. Each of
the commissionaires carried a large dish of cream tarts under a
cover, which they at once removed; and the young man made the round
of the company, and pressed these confections upon every one's
acceptance with an exaggerated courtesy. Sometimes his offer was
laughingly accepted; sometimes it was firmly, or even harshly,
rejected. In these latter cases the new-comer always ate the tart
himself, with some more or less humorous commentary.
At last he accosted Prince Florizel.
"Sir," said he, with a profound obeisance, proffering the tart at
the same time between his thumb and forefinger, "will you so far
honour an entire stranger? I can answer for the quality of the
pastry, having eaten two dozen and three of them myself since five
"I am in the habit," replied the Prince, "of looking not so much to
the nature of a gift as to the spirit in which it is offered."
"The spirit, sir," returned the young man, with another bow, "is
one of mockery."
"Mockery?" repeated Florizel. "And whom do you propose to mock?"
"I am not here to expound my philosophy," replied the other, "but
to distribute these cream tarts. If I mention that I heartily
include myself in the ridicule of the transaction, I hope you will
consider honour satisfied and condescend. If not, you will
constrain me to eat my twenty-eighth, and I own to being weary of
the exercise."
"You touch me," said the Prince, "and I have all the will in the
world to rescue you from this dilemma, but upon one condition. If
my friend and I eat your cakes - for which we have neither of us
any natural inclination - we shall expect you to join us at supper
by way of recompense."
The young man seemed to reflect.
"I have still several dozen upon hand," he said at last; "and that
will make it necessary for me to visit several more bars before my
great affair is concluded. This will take some time; and if you
are hungry - "
The Prince interrupted him with a polite gesture.
"My friend and I will accompany you," he said; "for we have already
a deep interest in your very agreeable mode of passing an evening.
And now that the preliminaries of peace are settled, allow me to
sign the treaty for both."
And the Prince swallowed the tart with the best grace imaginable.
"It is delicious," said he.
"I perceive you are a connoisseur," replied the young man.
Colonel Geraldine likewise did honour to the pastry; and every one
in that bar having now either accepted or refused his delicacies,
the young man with the cream tarts led the way to another and
similar establishment. The two commissionaires, who seemed to have
grown accustomed to their absurd employment, followed immediately
after; and the Prince and the Colonel brought up the rear, arm in
arm, and smiling to each other as they went. In this order the
company visited two other taverns, where scenes were enacted of a
like nature to that already described - some refusing, some
accepting, the favours of this vagabond hospitality, and the young
man himself eating each rejected tart.
On leaving the third saloon the young man counted his store. There
were but nine remaining, three in one tray and six in the other.
"Gentlemen," said he, addressing himself to his two new followers,
"I am unwilling to delay your supper. I am positively sure you
must be hungry. I feel that I owe you a special consideration.
And on this great day for me, when I am closing a career of folly
by my most conspicuously silly action, I wish to behave handsomely
to all who give me countenance. Gentlemen, you shall wait no
longer. Although my constitution is shattered by previous
excesses, at the risk of my life I liquidate the suspensory
With these words he crushed the nine remaining tarts into his
mouth, and swallowed them at a single movement each. Then, turning
to the commissionaires, he gave them a couple of sovereigns.
"I have to thank you," said be, "for your extraordinary patience."
And he dismissed them with a bow apiece. For some seconds he stood
looking at the purse from which he had just paid his assistants,
then, with a laugh, he tossed it into the middle of the street, and
signified his readiness for supper.
In a small French restaurant in Soho, which had enjoyed an
exaggerated reputation for some little while, but had already begun
to be forgotten, and in a private room up two pair of stairs, the
three companions made a very elegant supper, and drank three or
four bottles of champagne, talking the while upon indifferent
subjects. The young man was fluent and gay, but he laughed louder
than was natural in a person of polite breeding; his hands trembled
violently, and his voice took sudden and surprising inflections,
which seemed to be independent of his will. The dessert had been
cleared away, and all three had lighted their cigars, when the
Prince addressed him in these words:-
"You will, I am sure, pardon my curiosity. What I have seen of you
has greatly pleased but even more puzzled me. And though I should
be loth to seem indiscreet, I must tell you that my friend and I
are persons very well worthy to be entrusted with a secret. We
have many of our own, which we are continually revealing to
improper ears. And if, as I suppose, your story is a silly one,
you need have no delicacy with us, who are two of the silliest men
in England. My name is Godall, Theophilus Godall; my friend is
Major Alfred Hammersmith - or at least, such is the name by which
he chooses to be known. We pass our lives entirely in the search
for extravagant adventures; and there is no extravagance with which
we are not capable of sympathy."
"I like you, Mr. Godall," returned the young man; "you inspire me
with a natural confidence; and I have not the slightest objection
to your friend the Major, whom I take to be a nobleman in
masquerade. At least, I am sure he is no soldier."
The Colonel smiled at this compliment to the perfection of his art;
and the young man went on in a more animated manner.
"There is every reason why I should not tell you my story. Perhaps
that is just the reason why I am going to do so. At least, you
seem so well prepared to hear a tale of silliness that I cannot
find it in my heart to disappoint you. My name, in spite of your
example, I shall keep to myself. My age is not essential to the
narrative. I am descended from my ancestors by ordinary
generation, and from them I inherited the very eligible human
tenement which I still occupy and a fortune of three hundred pounds
a year. I suppose they also handed on to me a hare-brain humour,
which it has been my chief delight to indulge. I received a good
education. I can play the violin nearly well enough to earn money
in the orchestra of a penny gaff, but not quite. The same remark
applies to the flute and the French horn. I learned enough of
whist to lose about a hundred a year at that scientific game. My
acquaintance with French was sufficient to enable me to squander
money in Paris with almost the same facility as in London. In
short, I am a person full of manly accomplishments. I have had
every sort of adventure, including a duel about nothing. Only two
months ago I met a young lady exactly suited to my taste in mind
and body; I found my heart melt; I saw that I had come upon my fate
at last, and was in the way to fall in love. But when I came to
reckon up what remained to me of my capital, I found it amounted to
something less than four hundred pounds! I ask you fairly - can a
man who respects himself fall in love on four hundred pounds? I
concluded, certainly not; left the presence of my charmer, and
slightly accelerating my usual rate of expenditure, came this
morning to my last eighty pounds. This I divided into two equal
parts; forty I reserved for a particular purpose; the remaining
forty I was to dissipate before the night. I have passed a very
entertaining day, and played many farces besides that of the cream
tarts which procured me the advantage of your acquaintance; for I
was determined, as I told you, to bring a foolish career to a still
more foolish conclusion; and when you saw me throw my purse into
the street, the forty pounds were at an end. Now you know me as
well as I know myself: a fool, but consistent in his folly; and,
as I will ask you to believe, neither a whimperer nor a coward."
From the whole tone of the young man's statement it was plain that
he harboured very bitter and contemptuous thoughts about himself.
His auditors were led to imagine that his love affair was nearer
his heart than he admitted, and that he had a design on his own
life. The farce of the cream tarts began to have very much the air
of a tragedy in disguise.
"Why, is this not odd," broke out Geraldine, giving a look to
Prince Florizel, "that we three fellows should have met by the
merest accident in so large a wilderness as London, and should be
so nearly in the same condition?"
"How?" cried the young man. "Are you, too, ruined? Is this supper
a folly like my cream tarts? Has the devil brought three of his
own together for a last carouse?"
"The devil, depend upon it, can sometimes do a very gentlemanly
thing," returned Prince Florizel; "and I am so much touched by this
coincidence, that, although we are not entirely in the same case, I
am going to put an end to the disparity. Let your heroic treatment
of the last cream tarts be my example."
So saying, the Prince drew out his purse and took from it a small
bundle of bank-notes.
"You see, I was a week or so behind you, but I mean to catch you up
and come neck and neck into the winning-post," he continued.
"This," laying one of the notes upon the table, "will suffice for
the bill. As for the rest - "
He tossed them into the fire, and they went up the chimney in a
single blaze.
The young man tried to catch his arm, but as the table was between
them his interference came too late.
"Unhappy man," he cried, "you should not have burned them all! You
should have kept forty pounds."
"Forty pounds!" repeated the Prince. "Why, in heaven's name, forty
"Why not eighty?" cried the Colonel; "for to my certain knowledge
there must have been a hundred in the bundle."
"It was only forty pounds he needed," said the young man gloomily.
"But without them there is no admission. The rule is strict.
Forty pounds for each. Accursed life, where a man cannot even die
without money!"
The Prince and the Colonel exchanged glances. "Explain yourself,"
said the latter. "I have still a pocket-book tolerably well lined,
and I need not say how readily I should share my wealth with
Godall. But I must know to what end: you must certainly tell us
what you mean."
The young man seemed to awaken; he looked uneasily from one to the
other, and his face flushed deeply.
"You are not fooling me?" he asked. "You are indeed ruined men
like me?"
"Indeed, I am for my part," replied the Colonel.
"And for mine," said the Prince, "I have given you proof. Who but
a ruined man would throw his notes into the fire? The action
speaks for itself."
"A ruined man - yes," returned the other suspiciously, "or else a
"Enough, sir," said the Prince; "I have said so, and I am not
accustomed to have my word remain in doubt."
"Ruined?" said the young man. "Are you ruined, like me? Are you,
after a life of indulgence, come to such a pass that you can only
indulge yourself in one thing more? Are you" - he kept lowering
his voice as he went on - "are you going to give yourselves that
last indulgence? Are you going to avoid the consequences of your
folly by the one infallible and easy path? Are you going to give
the slip to the sheriff's officers of conscience by the one open
Suddenly he broke off and attempted to laugh.
"Here is your health!" he cried, emptying his glass, "and good
night to you, my merry ruined men."
Colonel Geraldine caught him by the arm as he was about to rise.
"You lack confidence in us," he said, "and you are wrong. To all
your questions I make answer in the affirmative. But I am not so
timid, and can speak the Queen's English plainly. We too, like
yourself, have had enough of life, and are determined to die.
Sooner or later, alone or together, we meant to seek out death and
beard him where he lies ready. Since we have met you, and your
case is more pressing, let it be to-night - and at once - and, if
you will, all three together. Such a penniless trio," he cried,
"should go arm in arm into the halls of Pluto, and give each other
some countenance among the shades!"
Geraldine had hit exactly on the manners and intonations that
became the part he was playing. The Prince himself was disturbed,
and looked over at his confidant with a shade of doubt. As for the
young man, the flush came back darkly into his cheek, and his eyes
threw out a spark of light.
"You are the men for me!" he cried, with an almost terrible gaiety.
"Shake hands upon the bargain!" (his hand was cold and wet). "You
little know in what a company you will begin the march! You little
know in what a happy moment for yourselves you partook of my cream
tarts! I am only a unit, but I am a unit in an army. I know
Death's private door. I am one of his familiars, and can show you
into eternity without ceremony and yet without scandal."
They called upon him eagerly to explain his meaning.
"Can you muster eighty pounds between you?" he demanded.
Geraldine ostentatiously consulted his pocket-book, and replied in
the affirmative.
"Fortunate beings!" cried the young man. "Forty pounds is the
entry money of the Suicide Club."
"The Suicide Club," said the Prince, "why, what the devil is that?"
"Listen," said the young man; "this is the age of conveniences, and
I have to tell you of the last perfection of the sort. We have
affairs in different places; and hence railways were invented.
Railways separated us infallibly from our friends; and so
telegraphs were made that we might communicate speedier at great
distances. Even in hotels we have lifts to spare us a climb of
some hundred steps. Now, we know that life is only a stage to play
the fool upon as long as the part amuses us. There was one more
convenience lacking to modern comfort; a decent, easy way to quit
that stage; the back stairs to liberty; or, as I said this moment,
Death's private door. This, my two fellow-rebels, is supplied by
the Suicide Club. Do not suppose that you and I are alone, or even
exceptional in the highly reasonable desire that we profess. A
large number of our fellowmen, who have grown heartily sick of the
performance in which they are expected to join daily and all their
lives long, are only kept from flight by one or two considerations.
Some have families who would be shocked, or even blamed, if the
matter became public; others have a weakness at heart and recoil
from the circumstances of death. That is, to some extent, my own
experience. I cannot put a pistol to my head and draw the trigger;
for something stronger than myself withholds the act; and although
I loathe life, I have not strength enough in my body to take hold
of death and be done with it. For such as I, and for all who
desire to be out of the coil without posthumous scandal, the
Suicide Club has been inaugurated. How this has been managed, what
is its history, or what may be its ramifications in other lands, I
am myself uninformed; and what I know of its constitution, I am not
at liberty to communicate to you. To this extent, however, I am at
your service. If you are truly tired of life, I will introduce you
to-night to a meeting; and if not to-night, at least some time
within the week, you will be easily relieved of your existences.
It is now (consulting his watch) eleven; by half-past, at latest,
we must leave this place; so that you have half-an-hour before you
to consider my proposal. It is more serious than a cream tart," he
added, with a smile; "and I suspect more palatable."
"More serious, certainly," returned Colonel Geraldine; "and as it
is so much more so, will you allow me five minutes' speech in
private with my friend, Mr. Godall?"
"It is only fair," answered the young man. "If you will permit, I
will retire."
"You will be very obliging," said the Colonel.
As soon as the two were alone - "What," said Prince Florizel, "is
the use of this confabulation, Geraldine? I see you are flurried,
whereas my mind is very tranquilly made up. I will see the end of
"Your Highness," said the Colonel, turning pale; "let me ask you to
consider the importance of your life, not only to your friends, but
to the public interest. 'If not to-night,' said this madman; but
supposing that to-night some irreparable disaster were to overtake
your Highness's person, what, let me ask you, what would be my
despair, and what the concern and disaster of a great nation?"
"I will see the end of this," repeated the Prince in his most
deliberate tones; "and have the kindness, Colonel Geraldine, to
remember and respect your word of honour as a gentleman. Under no
circumstances, recollect, nor without my special authority, are you
to betray the incognito under which I choose to go abroad. These
were my commands, which I now reiterate. And now," he added, "let
me ask you to call for the bill."
Colonel Geraldine bowed in submission; but he had a very white face
as he summoned the young man of the cream tarts, and issued his
directions to the waiter. The Prince preserved his undisturbed
demeanour, and described a Palais Royal farce to the young suicide
with great humour and gusto. He avoided the Colonel's appealing
looks without ostentation, and selected another cheroot with more
than usual care. Indeed, he was now the only man of the party who
kept any command over his nerves.
The bill was discharged, the Prince giving the whole change of the
note to the astonished waiter; and the three drove off in a fourwheeler.
They were not long upon the way before the cab stopped at
the entrance to a rather dark court. Here all descended.
After Geraldine had paid the fare, the young man turned, and
addressed Prince Florizel as follows:-
"It is still time, Mr. Godall, to make good your escape into
thraldom. And for you too, Major Hammersmith. Reflect well before
you take another step; and if your hearts say no - here are the
"Lead on, sir," said the Prince. "I am not the man to go back from
a thing once said."
"Your coolness does me good," replied their guide. "I have never
seen any one so unmoved at this conjuncture; and yet you are not
the first whom I have escorted to this door. More than one of my
friends has preceded me, where I knew I must shortly follow. But
this is of no interest to you. Wait me here for only a few
moments; I shall return as soon as I have arranged the
preliminaries of your introduction."
And with that the young man, waving his hand to his companions,
turned into the court, entered a doorway and disappeared.
"Of all our follies," said Colonel Geraldine in a low voice, "this
is the wildest and most dangerous."
"I perfectly believe so," returned the Prince.
"We have still," pursued the Colonel, "a moment to ourselves. Let
me beseech your Highness to profit by the opportunity and retire.
The consequences of this step are so dark, and may be so grave,
that I feel myself justified in pushing a little farther than usual
the liberty which your Highness is so condescending as to allow me
in private."
"Am I to understand that Colonel Geraldine is afraid?" asked his
Highness, taking his cheroot from his lips, and looking keenly into
the other's face.
"My fear is certainly not personal," replied the other proudly; "of
that your Highness may rest well assured."
"I had supposed as much," returned the Prince, with undisturbed
good humour; "but I was unwilling to remind you of the difference
in our stations. No more - no more," he added, seeing Geraldine
about to apologise, "you stand excused."
And he smoked placidly, leaning against a railing, until the young
man returned.
"Well," he asked, "has our reception been arranged?"
"Follow me," was the reply. "The President will see you in the
cabinet. And let me warn you to be frank in your answers. I have
stood your guarantee; but the club requires a searching inquiry
before admission; for the indiscretion of a single member would
lead to the dispersion of the whole society for ever."
The Prince and Geraldine put their heads together for a moment.
"Bear me out in this," said the one; and "bear me out in that,"
said the other; and by boldly taking up the characters of men with
whom both were acquainted, they had come to an agreement in a
twinkling, and were ready to follow their guide into the
President's cabinet.
There were no formidable obstacles to pass. The outer door stood
open; the door of the cabinet was ajar; and there, in a small but
very high apartment, the young man left them once more.
"He will be here immediately," he said, with a nod, as he
Voices were audible in the cabinet through the folding doors which
formed one end; and now and then the noise of a champagne cork,
followed by a burst of laughter, intervened among the sounds of
conversation. A single tall window looked out upon the river and
the embankment; and by the disposition of the lights they judged
themselves not far from Charing Cross station. The furniture was
scanty, and the coverings worn to the thread; and there was nothing
movable except a hand-bell in the centre of a round table, and the
hats and coats of a considerable party hung round the wall on pegs.
"What sort of a den is this?" said Geraldine.
"That is what I have come to see," replied the Prince. "If they
keep live devils on the premises, the thing may grow amusing."
Just then the folding door was opened no more than was necessary
for the passage of a human body; and there entered at the same
moment a louder buzz of talk, and the redoubtable President of the
Suicide Club. The President was a man of fifty or upwards; large
and rambling in his gait, with shaggy side whiskers, a bald top to
his head, and a veiled grey eye, which now and then emitted a
twinkle. His mouth, which embraced a large cigar, he kept
continually screwing round and round and from side to side, as he
looked sagaciously and coldly at the strangers. He was dressed in
light tweeds, with his neck very open in a striped shirt collar;
and carried a minute book under one arm.
"Good evening," said he, after he had closed the door behind him.
"I am told you wish to speak with me."
"We have a desire, sir, to join the Suicide Club," replied the
The President rolled his cigar about in his mouth. "What is that?"
he said abruptly.
"Pardon me," returned the Colonel, "but I believe you are the
person best qualified to give us information on that point."
"I?" cried the President. "A Suicide Club? Come, come! this is a
frolic for All Fools' Day. I can make allowances for gentlemen who
get merry in their liquor; but let there be an end to this."
"Call your Club what you will," said the Colonel, "you have some
company behind these doors, and we insist on joining it."
"Sir," returned the President curtly, "you have made a mistake.
This is a private house, and you must leave it instantly."
The Prince had remained quietly in his seat throughout this little
colloquy; but now, when the Colonel looked over to him, as much as
to say, "Take your answer and come away, for God's sake!" he drew
his cheroot from his mouth, and spoke -
"I have come here," said he, "upon the invitation of a friend of
yours. He has doubtless informed you of my intention in thus
intruding on your party. Let me remind you that a person in my
circumstances has exceedingly little to bind him, and is not at all
likely to tolerate much rudeness. I am a very quiet man, as a
usual thing; but, my dear sir, you are either going to oblige me in
the little matter of which you are aware, or you shall very
bitterly repent that you ever admitted me to your ante-chamber."
The President laughed aloud.
"That is the way to speak," said he. "You are a man who is a man.
You know the way to my heart, and can do what you like with me.
Will you," he continued, addressing Geraldine, "will you step aside
for a few minutes? I shall finish first with your companion, and
some of the club's formalities require to be fulfilled in private."
With these words he opened the door of a small closet, into which
he shut the Colonel.
"I believe in you," he said to Florizel, as soon as they were
alone; "but are you sure of your friend?"
"Not so sure as I am of myself, though he has more cogent reasons,"
answered Florizel, "but sure enough to bring him here without
alarm. He has had enough to cure the most tenacious man of life.
He was cashiered the other day for cheating at cards."
"A good reason, I daresay," replied the President; "at least, we
have another in the same case, and I feel sure of him. Have you
also been in the Service, may I ask?"
"I have," was the reply; "but I was too lazy, I left it early."
"What is your reason for being tired of life?" pursued the
"The same, as near as I can make out," answered the Prince;
"unadulterated laziness."
The President started. "D-n it," said he, "you must have something
better than that."
"I have no more money," added Florizel. "That is also a vexation,
without doubt. It brings my sense of idleness to an acute point."
The President rolled his cigar round in his mouth for some seconds,
directing his gaze straight into the eyes of this unusual neophyte;
but the Prince supported his scrutiny with unabashed good temper.
"If I had not a deal of experience," said the President at last, "I
should turn you off. But I know the world; and this much any way,
that the most frivolous excuses for a suicide are often the
toughest to stand by. And when I downright like a man, as I do
you, sir, I would rather strain the regulation than deny him."
The Prince and the Colonel, one after the other, were subjected to
a long and particular interrogatory: the Prince alone; but
Geraldine in the presence of the Prince, so that the President
might observe the countenance of the one while the other was being
warmly cross-examined. The result was satisfactory; and the
President, after having booked a few details of each case, produced
a form of oath to be accepted. Nothing could be conceived more
passive than the obedience promised, or more stringent than the
terms by which the juror bound himself. The man who forfeited a
pledge so awful could scarcely have a rag of honour or any of the
consolations of religion left to him. Florizel signed the
document, but not without a shudder; the Colonel followed his
example with an air of great depression. Then the President
received the entry money; and without more ado, introduced the two
friends into the smoking-room of the Suicide Club.
The smoking-room of the Suicide Club was the same height as the
cabinet into which it opened, but much larger, and papered from top
to bottom with an imitation of oak wainscot. A large and cheerful
fire and a number of gas-jets illuminated the company. The Prince
and his follower made the number up to eighteen. Most of the party
were smoking, and drinking champagne; a feverish hilarity reigned,
with sudden and rather ghastly pauses.
"Is this a full meeting?" asked the Prince.
"Middling," said the President. "By the way," he added, "if you
have any money, it is usual to offer some champagne. It keeps up a
good spirit, and is one of my own little perquisites."
"Hammersmith," said Florizel, "I may leave the champagne to you."
And with that he turned away and began to go round among the
guests. Accustomed to play the host in the highest circles, he
charmed and dominated all whom he approached; there was something
at once winning and authoritative in his address; and his
extraordinary coolness gave him yet another distinction in this
half maniacal society. As he went from one to another he kept both
his eyes and ears open, and soon began to gain a general idea of
the people among whom he found himself. As in all other places of
resort, one type predominated: people in the prime of youth, with
every show of intelligence and sensibility in their appearance, but
with little promise of strength or the quality that makes success.
Few were much above thirty, and not a few were still in their
teens. They stood, leaning on tables and shifting on their feet;
sometimes they smoked extraordinarily fast, and sometimes they let
their cigars go out; some talked well, but the conversation of
others was plainly the result of nervous tension, and was equally
without wit or purport. As each new bottle of champagne was
opened, there was a manifest improvement in gaiety. Only two were
seated - one in a chair in the recess of the window, with his head
hanging and his hands plunged deep into his trouser pockets, pale,
visibly moist with perspiration, saying never a word, a very wreck
of soul and body; the other sat on the divan close by the chimney,
and attracted notice by a trenchant dissimilarity from all the
rest. He was probably upwards of forty, but he looked fully ten
years older; and Florizel thought he had never seen a man more
naturally hideous, nor one more ravaged by disease and ruinous
excitements. He was no more than skin and bone, was partly
paralysed, and wore spectacles of such unusual power, that his eyes
appeared through the glasses greatly magnified and distorted in
shape. Except the Prince and the President, he was the only person
in the room who preserved the composure of ordinary life.
There was little decency among the members of the club. Some
boasted of the disgraceful actions, the consequences of which had
reduced them to seek refuge in death; and the others listened
without disapproval. There was a tacit understanding against moral
judgments; and whoever passed the club doors enjoyed already some
of the immunities of the tomb. They drank to each other's
memories, and to those of notable suicides in the past. They
compared and developed their different views of death - some
declaring that it was no more than blackness and cessation; others
full of a hope that that very night they should be scaling the
stars and commencing with the mighty dead.
"To the eternal memory of Baron Trenck, the type of suicides!"
cried one. "He went out of a small cell into a smaller, that he
might come forth again to freedom."
"For my part," said a second, "I wish no more than a bandage for my
eyes and cotton for my ears. Only they have no cotton thick enough
in this world."
A third was for reading the mysteries of life in a future state;
and a fourth professed that he would never have joined the club, if
he had not been induced to believe in Mr. Darwin.
"I could not bear," said this remarkable suicide, "to be descended
from an ape."
Altogether, the Prince was disappointed by the bearing and
conversation of the members.
"It does not seem to me," he thought, "a matter for so much
disturbance. If a man has made up his mind to kill himself, let
him do it, in God's name, like a gentleman. This flutter and big
talk is out of place."
In the meanwhile Colonel Geraldine was a prey to the blackest
apprehensions; the club and its rules were still a mystery, and he
looked round the room for some one who should be able to set his
mind at rest. In this survey his eye lighted on the paralytic
person with the strong spectacles; and seeing him so exceedingly
tranquil, he besought the President, who was going in and out of
the room under a pressure of business, to present him to the
gentleman on the divan.
The functionary explained the needlessness of all such formalities
within the club, but nevertheless presented Mr. Hammersmith to Mr.
Mr. Malthus looked at the Colonel curiously, and then requested him
to take a seat upon his right.
"You are a new-comer," he said, "and wish information? You have
come to the proper source. It is two years since I first visited
this charming club."
The Colonel breathed again. If Mr. Malthus had frequented the
place for two years there could be little danger for the Prince in
a single evening. But Geraldine was none the less astonished, and
began to suspect a mystification.
"What!" cried he, "two years! I thought - but indeed I see I have
been made the subject of a pleasantry."
"By no means," replied Mr. Malthus mildly. "My case is peculiar.
I am not, properly speaking, a suicide at all; but, as it were, an
honorary member. I rarely visit the club twice in two months. My
infirmity and the kindness of the President have procured me these
little immunities, for which besides I pay at an advanced rate.
Even as it is my luck has been extraordinary."
"I am afraid," said the Colonel, "that I must ask you to be more
explicit. You must remember that I am still most imperfectly
acquainted with the rules of the club."
"An ordinary member who comes here in search of death like
yourself," replied the paralytic, "returns every evening until
fortune favours him. He can even, if he is penniless, get board
and lodging from the President: very fair, I believe, and clean,
although, of course, not luxurious; that could hardly be,
considering the exiguity (if I may so express myself) of the
subscription. And then the President's company is a delicacy in
"Indeed!" cried Geraldine, "he had not greatly prepossessed me."
"Ah!" said Mr. Malthus, "you do not know the man: the drollest
fellow! What stories! What cynicism! He knows life to admiration
and, between ourselves, is probably the most corrupt rogue in
"And he also," asked the Colonel, "is a permanency - like yourself,
if I may say so without offence?"
"Indeed, he is a permanency in a very different sense from me,"
replied Mr. Malthus. "I have hem graciously spared, but I must go
at last. Now he never plays. He shuffles and deals for the club,
and makes the necessary arrangements. That man, my dear Mr.
Hammersmith, is the very soul of ingenuity. For three years he has
pursued in London his useful and, I think I may add, his artistic
calling; and not so much as a whisper of suspicion has been once
aroused. I believe him myself to be inspired. You doubtless
remember the celebrated case, six months ago, of the gentleman who
was accidentally poisoned in a chemists shop? That was one of the
least rich, one of the least racy, of his notions; but then, how
simple! and how safe!"
"You astound me," said the Colonel. "Was that unfortunate
gentleman one of the - " He was about to say "victims"; but
bethinking himself in time, he substituted - "members of the club?"
In the same flash of thought, it occurred to him that Mr. Malthus
himself had not at all spoken in the tone of one who is in love
with death; and he added hurriedly:
"But I perceive I am still in the dark. You speak of shuffling and
dealing; pray for what end? And since you seem rather unwilling to
die than otherwise, I must own that I cannot conceive what brings
you here at all."
"You say truly that you are in the dark," replied Mr. Malthus with
more animation. "Why, my dear sir, this club is the temple of
intoxication. If my enfeebled health could support the excitement
more often, you may depend upon it I should be more often here. It
requires all the sense of duty engendered by a long habit of illhealth
and careful regimen, to keep me from excess in this, which
is, I may say, my last dissipation. I have tried them all, sir,"
he went on, laying his hand on Geraldine's arm, "all without
exception, and I declare to you, upon my honour, there is not one
of them that has not been grossly and untruthfully overrated.
People trifle with love. Now, I deny that love is a strong
passion. Fear is the strong passion; it is with fear that you must
trifle, if you wish to taste the intensest joys of living. Envy me
- envy me, sir," he added with a chuckle, "I am a coward!"
Geraldine could scarcely repress a movement of repulsion for this
deplorable wretch; but he commanded himself with an effort, and
continued his inquiries.
"How, sir," he asked, "is the excitement so artfully prolonged? and
where is there any element of uncertainty?"
"I must tell you how the victim for every evening is selected,"
returned Mr. Malthus; "and not only the victim, but another member,
who is to be the instrument in the club's hands, and death's high
priest for that occasion."
"Good God!" said the Colonel, "do they then kill each other?"
"The trouble of suicide is removed in that way," returned Malthus
with a nod.
"Merciful heavens!" ejaculated the Colonel, "and may you - may I -
may the - my friend I mean - may any of us be pitched upon this
evening as the slayer of another man's body and immortal spirit?
Can such things be possible among men born of women? Oh! infamy of
He was about to rise in his horror, when he caught the Prince's
eye. It was fixed upon him from across the room with a frowning
and angry stare. And in a moment Geraldine recovered his
"After all," he added, "why not? And since you say the game is
interesting, VOGUE LA GALERE - I follow the club!"
Mr. Malthus had keenly enjoyed the Colonel's amazement and disgust.
He had the vanity of wickedness; and it pleased him to see another
man give way to a generous movement, while he felt himself, in his
entire corruption, superior to such emotions.
"You now, after your first moment of surprise," said he, "are in a
position to appreciate the delights of our society. You can see
how it combines the excitement of a gaming-table, a duel, and a
Roman amphitheatre. The Pagans did well enough; I cordially admire
the refinement of their minds; but it has been reserved for a
Christian country to attain this extreme, this quintessence, this
absolute of poignancy. You will understand how vapid are all
amusements to a man who has acquired a taste for this one. The
game we play," he continued, "is one of extreme simplicity. A full
pack - but I perceive you are about to see the thing in progress.
Will you lend me the help of your arm? I am unfortunately
Indeed, just as Mr. Malthus was beginning his description, another
pair of folding-doors was thrown open, and the whole club began to
pass, not without some hurry, into the adjoining room. It was
similar in every respect to the one from which it was entered, but
somewhat differently furnished. The centre was occupied by a long
green table, at which the President sat shuffling a pack of cards
with great particularity. Even with the stick and the Colonel's
arm, Mr. Malthus walked with so much difficulty that every one was
seated before this pair and the Prince, who had waited for them,
entered the apartment; and, in consequence, the three took seats
close together at the lower end of the board.
"It is a pack of fifty-two," whispered Mr. Malthus. "Watch for the
ace of spades, which is the sign of death, and the ace of clubs,
which designates the official of the night. Happy, happy young
men!" he added. "You have good eyes, and can follow the game.
Alas! I cannot tell an ace from a deuce across the table."
And he proceeded to equip himself with a second pair of spectacles.
"I must at least watch the faces," he explained.
The Colonel rapidly informed his friend of all that he had learned
from the honorary member, and of the horrible alternative that lay
before them. The Prince was conscious of a deadly chill and a
contraction about his heart; he swallowed with difficulty, and
looked from side to side like a man in a maze.
"One bold stroke," whispered the Colonel, "and we may still
But the suggestion recalled the Prince's spirits.
"Silence!" said be. "Let me see that you can play like a gentleman
for any stake, however serious."
And he looked about him, once more to all appearance at his ease,
although his heart beat thickly, and he was conscious of an
unpleasant heat in his bosom. The members were all very quiet and
intent; every one was pale, but none so pale as Mr. Malthus. His
eyes protruded; his head kept nodding involuntarily upon his spine;
his hands found their way, one after the other, to his mouth, where
they made clutches at his tremulous and ashen lips. It was plain
that the honorary member enjoyed his membership on very startling
"Attention, gentlemen!" said the President.
And he began slowly dealing the cards about the table in the
reverse direction, pausing until each man had shown his card.
Nearly every one hesitated; and sometimes you would see a player's
fingers stumble more than once before he could turn over the
momentous slip of pasteboard. As the Prince's turn drew nearer, he
was conscious of a growing and almost suffocating excitement; but
he had somewhat of the gambler's nature, and recognised almost with
astonishment, that there was a degree of pleasure in his
sensations. The nine of clubs fell to his lot; the three of spades
was dealt to Geraldine; and the queen of hearts to Mr. Malthus, who
was unable to suppress a sob of relief. The young man of the cream
tarts almost immediately afterwards turned over the ace of clubs,
and remained frozen with horror, the card still resting on his
finger; he had not come there to kill, but to be killed; and the
Prince in his generous sympathy with his position almost forgot the
peril that still hung over himself and his friend.
The deal was coming round again, and still Death's card had not
come out. The players held their respiration, and only breathed by
gasps. The Prince received another club; Geraldine had a diamond;
but when Mr. Malthus turned up his card a horrible noise, like that
of something breaking, issued from his mouth; and he rose from his
seat and sat down again, with no sign of his paralysis. It was the
ace of spades. The honorary member had trifled once too often with
his terrors.
Conversation broke out again almost at once. The players relaxed
their rigid attitudes, and began to rise from the table and stroll
back by twos and threes into the smoking-room. The President
stretched his arms and yawned, like a man who has finished his
day's work. But Mr. Malthus sat in his place, with his head in his
hands, and his hands upon the table, drunk and motionless - a thing
stricken down.
The Prince and Geraldine made their escape at once. In the cold
night air their horror of what they had witnessed was redoubled.
"Alas!" cried the Prince, "to be bound by an oath in such a matter!
to allow this wholesale trade in murder to be continued with profit
and impunity! If I but dared to forfeit my pledge!"
"That is impossible for your Highness," replied the Colonel, "whose
honour is the honour of Bohemia. But I dare, and may with
propriety, forfeit mine."
"Geraldine," said the Prince, "if your honour suffers in any of the
adventures into which you follow me, not only will I never pardon
you, but - what I believe will much more sensibly affect you - I
should never forgive myself."
"I receive your Highness's commands," replied the Colonel. "Shall
we go from this accursed spot?"
"Yes," said the Prince. "Call a cab in Heaven's name, and let me
try to forget in slumber the memory of this night's disgrace."
But it was notable that he carefully read the name of the court
before he left it.
The next morning, as soon as the Prince was stirring, Colonel
Geraldine brought him a daily newspaper, with the following
paragraph marked:-
"MELANCHOLY ACCIDENT. - This morning, about two o'clock, Mr.
Bartholomew Malthus, of 16 Chepstow Place, Westbourne Grove, on his
way home from a party at a friend's house, fell over the upper
parapet in Trafalgar Square, fracturing his skull and breaking a
leg and an arm. Death was instantaneous. Mr. Malthus, accompanied
by a friend, was engaged in looking for a cab at the time of the
unfortunate occurrence. As Mr. Malthus was paralytic, it is
thought that his fall may have been occasioned by another seizure.
The unhappy gentleman was well known in the most respectable
circles, and his loss will be widely and deeply deplored."
"If ever a soul went straight to Hell," said Geraldine solemnly,
"it was that paralytic man's."
The Prince buried his face in his hands, and remained silent.
"I am almost rejoiced," continued the Colonel, "to know that he is
dead. But for our young man of the cream tarts I confess my heart
"Geraldine," said the Prince, raising his face, "that unhappy lad
was last night as innocent as you and I; and this morning the guilt
of blood is on his soul. When I think of the President, my heart
grows sick within me. I do not know how it shall be done, but I
shall have that scoundrel at my mercy as there is a God in heaven.
What an experience, what a lesson, was that game of cards!"
"One," said the Colonel, "never to be repeated."
The Prince remained so long without replying, that Geraldine grew
"You cannot mean to return," he said. "You have suffered too much
and seen too much horror already. The duties of your high position
forbid the repetition of the hazard."
"There is much in what you say," replied Prince Florizel, "and I am
not altogether pleased with my own determination. Alas! in the
clothes of the greatest potentate, what is there but a man? I
never felt my weakness more acutely than now, Geraldine, but it is
stronger than I. Can I cease to interest myself in the fortunes of
the unhappy young man who supped with us some hours ago? Can I
leave the President to follow his nefarious career unwatched? Can
I begin an adventure so entrancing, and not follow it to an end?
No, Geraldine: you ask of the Prince more than the man is able to
perform. To-night, once more, we take our places at the table of
the Suicide Club."
Colonel Geraldine fell upon his knees.
"Will your Highness take my life?" he cried. "It is his - his
freely; but do not, O do not! let him ask me to countenance so
terrible a risk."
"Colonel Geraldine," replied the Prince, with some haughtiness of
manner, "your life is absolutely your own. I only looked for
obedience; and when that is unwillingly rendered, I shall look for
that no longer. I add one word your: importunity in this affair
has been sufficient."
The Master of the Horse regained his feet at once.
"Your Highness," he said, "may I be excused in my attendance this
afternoon? I dare not, as an honourable man, venture a second time
into that fatal house until I have perfectly ordered my affairs.
Your Highness shall meet, I promise him, with no more opposition
from the most devoted and grateful of his servants."
"My dear Geraldine," returned Prince Florizel, "I always regret
when you oblige me to remember my rank. Dispose of your day as you
think fit, but be here before eleven in the same disguise."
The club, on this second evening, was not so fully attended; and
when Geraldine and the Prince arrived, there were not above half-adozen
persons in the smoking-room. His Highness took the President
aside and congratulated him warmly on the demise of Mr. Malthus.
"I like," he said, "to meet with capacity, and certainly find much
of it in you. Your profession is of a very delicate nature, but I
see you are well qualified to conduct it with success and secrecy."
The President was somewhat affected by these compliments from one
of his Highness's superior bearing. He acknowledged them almost
with humility.
"Poor Malthy!" he added, "I shall hardly know the club without him.
The most of my patrons are boys, sir, and poetical boys, who are
not much company for me. Not but what Malthy had some poetry, too;
but it was of a kind that I could understand."
"I can readily imagine you should find yourself in sympathy with
Mr. Malthus," returned the Prince. "He struck me as a man of a
very original disposition."
The young man of the cream tarts was in the room, but painfully
depressed and silent. His late companions sought in vain to lead
him into conversation.
"How bitterly I wish," he cried, "that I had never brought you to
this infamous abode! Begone, while you are clean-handed. If you
could have heard the old man scream as he fell, and the noise of
his bones upon the pavement! Wish me, if you have any kindness to
so fallen a being - wish the ace of spades for me to-night!"
A few more members dropped in as the evening went on, but the club
did not muster more than the devil's dozen when they took their
places at the table. The Prince was again conscious of a certain
joy in his alarms; but he was astonished to see Geraldine so much
more self-possessed than on the night before.
"It is extraordinary," thought the Prince, "that a will, made or
unmade, should so greatly influence a young man's spirit."
"Attention, gentlemen!" said the President, and he began to deal.
Three times the cards went all round the table, and neither of the
marked cards had yet fallen from his hand. The excitement as he
began the fourth distribution was overwhelming. There were just
cards enough to go once more entirely round. The Prince, who sat
second from the dealer's left, would receive, in the reverse mode
of dealing practised at the club, the second last card. The third
player turned up a black ace - it was the ace of clubs. The next
received a diamond, the next a heart, and so on; but the ace of
spades was still undelivered. At last, Geraldine, who sat upon the
Prince's left, turned his card; it was an ace, but the ace of
When Prince Florizel saw his fate upon the table in front of him,
his heart stood still. He was a brave man, but the sweat poured
off his face. There were exactly fifty chances out of a hundred
that he was doomed. He reversed the card; it was the ace of
spades. A loud roaring filled his brain, and the table swam before
his eyes. He heard the player on his right break into a fit of
laughter that sounded between mirth and disappointment; he saw the
company rapidly dispersing, but his mind was full of other
thoughts. He recognised how foolish, how criminal, had been his
conduct. In perfect health, in the prime of his years, the heir to
a throne, he had gambled away his future and that of a brave and
loyal country. "God," he cried, "God forgive me!" And with that,
the confusion of his senses passed away, and he regained his selfpossession
in a moment.
To his surprise Geraldine had disappeared. There was no one in the
card-room but his destined butcher consulting with the President,
and the young man of the cream tarts, who slipped up to the Prince,
and whispered in his ear:-
"I would give a million, if I had it, for your luck."
His Highness could not help reflecting, as the young man departed,
that he would have sold his opportunity for a much more moderate
The whispered conference now came to an end. The holder of the ace
of clubs left the room with a look of intelligence, and the
President, approaching the unfortunate Prince, proffered him his
"I am pleased to have met you, sir," said he, "and pleased to have
been in a position to do you this trifling service. At least, you
cannot complain of delay. On the second evening - what a stroke of
The Prince endeavoured in vain to articulate something in response,
but his mouth was dry and his tongue seemed paralysed.
"You feel a little sickish?" asked the President, with some show of
solicitude. "Most gentlemen do. Will you take a little brandy?"
The Prince signified in the affirmative, and the other immediately
filled some of the spirit into a tumbler.
"Poor old Malthy!" ejaculated the President, as the Prince drained
the glass. "He drank near upon a pint, and little enough good it
seemed to do him!"
"I am more amenable to treatment," said the Prince, a good deal
revived. "I am my own man again at once, as you perceive. And so,
let me ask you, what are my directions?"
"You will proceed along the Strand in the direction of the City,
and on the left-hand pavement, until you meet the gentleman who has
just left the room. He will continue your instructions, and him
you will have the kindness to obey; the authority of the club is
vested in his person for the night. And now," added the President,
"I wish you a pleasant walk."
Florizel acknowledged the salutation rather awkwardly, and took his
leave. He passed through the smoking-room, where the bulk of the
players were still consuming champagne, some of which he had
himself ordered and paid for; and he was surprised to find himself
cursing them in his heart. He put on his hat and greatcoat in the
cabinet, and selected his umbrella from a corner. The familiarity
of these acts, and the thought that he was about them for the last
time, betrayed him into a fit of laughter which sounded
unpleasantly in his own ears. He conceived a reluctance to leave
the cabinet, and turned instead to the window. The sight of the
lamps and the darkness recalled him to himself.
"Come, come, I must be a man," he thought, "and tear myself away."
At the corner of Box Court three men fell upon Prince Florizel and
he was unceremoniously thrust into a carriage, which at once drove
rapidly away. There was already an occupant.
"Will your Highness pardon my zeal?" said a well known voice.
The Prince threw himself upon the Colonel's neck in a passion of
"How can I ever thank you?" he cried. "And how was this effected?"
Although he had been willing to march upon his doom, he was
overjoyed to yield to friendly violence, and return once more to
life and hope.
"You can thank me effectually enough," replied the Colonel, "by
avoiding all such dangers in the future. And as for your second
question, all has been managed by the simplest means. I arranged
this afternoon with a celebrated detective. Secrecy has been
promised and paid for. Your own servants have been principally
engaged in the affair. The house in Box Court has been surrounded
since nightfall, and this, which is one of your own carriages, has
been awaiting you for nearly an hour."
"And the miserable creature who was to have slain me - what of
him?" inquired the Prince.
"He was pinioned as he left the club," replied the Colonel, "and
now awaits your sentence at the Palace, where he will soon be
joined by his accomplices."
"Geraldine," said the Prince, "you have saved me against my
explicit orders, and you have done well. I owe you not only my
life, but a lesson; and I should be unworthy of my rank if I did
not show myself grateful to my teacher. Let it be yours to choose
the manner."
There was a pause, during which the carriage continued to speed
through the streets, and the two men were each buried in his own
reflections. The silence was broken by Colonel Geraldine.
"Your Highness," said he, "has by this time a considerable body of
prisoners. There is at least one criminal among the number to whom
justice should be dealt. Our oath forbids us all recourse to law;
and discretion would forbid it equally if the oath were loosened.
May I inquire your Highness's intention?"
"It is decided," answered Florizel; "the President must fall in
duel. It only remains to choose his adversary."
"Your Highness has permitted me to name my own recompense," said
the Colonel. "Will he permit me to ask the appointment of my
brother? It is an honourable post, but I dare assure your Highness
that the lad will acquit himself with credit."
"You ask me an ungracious favour," said the Prince, "but I must
refuse you nothing."
The Colonel kissed his hand with the greatest affection; and at
that moment the carriage rolled under the archway of the Prince's
splendid residence.
An hour after, Florizel in his official robes, and covered with all
the orders of Bohemia, received the members of the Suicide Club.
"Foolish and wicked men," said he, "as many of you as have been
driven into this strait by the lack of fortune shall receive
employment and remuneration from my officers. Those who suffer
under a sense of guilt must have recourse to a higher and more
generous Potentate than I. I feel pity for all of you, deeper than
you can imagine; to-morrow you shall tell me your stories; and as
you answer more frankly, I shall be the more able to remedy your
misfortunes. As for you," he added, turning to the President, "I
should only offend a person of your parts by any offer of
assistance; but I have instead a piece of diversion to propose to
you. Here," laying his hand on the shoulder of Colonel Geraldine's
young brother, "is an officer of mine who desires to make a little
tour upon the Continent; and I ask you, as a favour, to accompany
him on this excursion. Do you," he went on, changing his tone, "do
you shoot well with the pistol? Because you may have need of that
accomplishment. When two men go travelling together, it is best to
be prepared for all. Let me add that, if by any chance you should
lose young Mr. Geraldine upon the way, I shall always have another
member of my household to place at your disposal; and I am known,
Mr. President, to have long eyesight, and as long an arm."
With these words, said with much sternness, the Prince concluded
his address. Next morning the members of the club were suitably
provided for by his munificence, and the President set forth upon
his travels, under the supervision of Mr. Geraldine, and a pair of
faithful and adroit lackeys, well trained in the Prince's
household. Not content with this, discreet agents were put in
possession of the house in Box Court, and all letters or visitors
for the Suicide Club or its officials were to be examined by Prince
Florizel in person.
Here (says my Arabian author) ends THE STORY OF THE YOUNG MAN WITH
THE CREAM TARTS, who is now a comfortable householder in Wigmore
Street, Cavendish Square. The number, for obvious reasons, I
suppress. Those who care to pursue the adventures of Prince
Florizel and the President of the Suicide Club, may read the
MR. SILAS Q. SCUDDAMORE was a young American of a simple and
harmless disposition, which was the more to his credit as he came
from New England - a quarter of the New World not precisely famous
for those qualities. Although he was exceedingly rich, he kept a
note of all his expenses in a little paper pocket-book; and he had
chosen to study the attractions of Paris from the seventh story of
what is called a furnished hotel, in the Latin Quarter. There was
a great deal of habit in his penuriousness; and his virtue, which
was very remarkable among his associates, was principally founded
upon diffidence and youth.
The next room to his was inhabited by a lady, very attractive in
her air and very elegant in toilette, whom, on his first arrival,
he had taken for a Countess. In course of time he had learned that
she was known by the name of Madame Zephyrine, and that whatever
station she occupied in life it was not that of a person of title.
Madame Zephyrine, probably in the hope of enchanting the young
American, used to flaunt by him on the stairs with a civil
inclination, a word of course, and a knock-down look out of her
black eyes, and disappear in a rustle of silk, and with the
revelation of an admirable foot and ankle. But these advances, so
far from encouraging Mr. Scuddamore, plunged him into the depths of
depression and bashfulness. She had come to him several times for
a light, or to apologise for the imaginary depredations of her
poodle; but his mouth was closed in the presence of so superior a
being, his French promptly left him, and he could only stare and
stammer until she was gone. The slenderness of their intercourse
did not prevent him from throwing out insinuations of a very
glorious order when he was safely alone with a few males.
The room on the other side of the American's - for there were three
rooms on a floor in the hotel - was tenanted by an old English
physician of rather doubtful reputation. Dr. Noel, for that was
his name, had been forced to leave London, where he enjoyed a large
and increasing practice; and it was hinted that the police had been
the instigators of this change of scene. At least he, who had made
something of a figure in earlier life, now dwelt in the Latin
Quarter in great simplicity and solitude, and devoted much of his
time to study. Mr. Scuddamore had made his acquaintance, and the
pair would now and then dine together frugally in a restaurant
across the street.
Silas Q. Scuddamore had many little vices of the more respectable
order, and was not restrained by delicacy from indulging them in
many rather doubtful ways. Chief among his foibles stood
curiosity. He was a born gossip; and life, and especially those
parts of it in which he had no experience, interested him to the
degree of passion. He was a pert, invincible questioner, pushing
his inquiries with equal pertinacity and indiscretion; he had been
observed, when he took a letter to the post, to weigh it in his
hand, to turn it over and over, and to study the address with care;
and when he found a flaw in the partition between his room and
Madame Zephyrine's, instead of filling it up, he enlarged and
improved the opening, and made use of it as a spy-hole on his
neighbour's affairs.
One day, in the end of March, his curiosity growing as it was
indulged, he enlarged the hole a little further, so that he might
command another corner of the room. That evening, when he went as
usual to inspect Madame Zephyrine's movements, he was astonished to
find the aperture obscured in an odd manner on the other side, and
still more abashed when the obstacle was suddenly withdrawn and a
titter of laughter reached his ears. Some of the plaster had
evidently betrayed the secret of his spy-hole, and his neighbour
had been returning the compliment in kind. Mr. Scuddamore was
moved to a very acute feeling of annoyance; he condemned Madame
Zephyrine unmercifully; he even blamed himself; but when he found,
next day, that she had taken no means to baulk him of his favourite
pastime, he continued to profit by her carelessness, and gratify
his idle curiosity.
That next day Madame Zephyrine received a long visit from a tall,
loosely-built man of fifty or upwards, whom Silas had not hitherto
seen. His tweed suit and coloured shirt, no less than his shaggy
side-whiskers, identified him as a Britisher, and his dull grey eye
affected Silas with a sense of cold. He kept screwing his mouth
from side to side and round and round during the whole colloquy,
which was carried on in whispers. More than once it seemed to the
young New Englander as if their gestures indicated his own
apartment; but the only thing definite he could gather by the most
scrupulous attention was this remark made by the Englishman in a
somewhat higher key, as if in answer to some reluctance or
"I have studied his taste to a nicety, and I tell you again and
again you are the only woman of the sort that I can lay my hands
In answer to this, Madame Zephyrine sighed, and appeared by a
gesture to resign herself, like one yielding to unqualified
That afternoon the observatory was finally blinded, a wardrobe
having been drawn in front of it upon the other side; and while
Silas was still lamenting over this misfortune, which he attributed
to the Britisher's malign suggestion, the concierge brought him up
a letter in a female handwriting. It was conceived in French of no
very rigorous orthography, bore no signature, and in the most
encouraging terms invited the young American to be present in a
certain part of the Bullier Ball at eleven o'clock that night.
Curiosity and timidity fought a long battle in his heart; sometimes
he was all virtue, sometimes all fire and daring; and the result of
it was that, long before ten, Mr. Silas Q. Scuddamore presented
himself in unimpeachable attire at the door of the Bullier Ball
Rooms, and paid his entry money with a sense of reckless devilry
that was not without its charm.
It was Carnival time, and the Ball was very full and noisy. The
lights and the crowd at first rather abashed our young adventurer,
and then, mounting to his brain with a sort of intoxication, put
him in possession of more than his own share of manhood. He felt
ready to face the devil, and strutted in the ballroom with the
swagger of a cavalier. While he was thus parading, he became aware
of Madame Zephyrine and her Britisher in conference behind a
pillar. The cat-like spirit of eaves-dropping overcame him at
once. He stole nearer and nearer on the couple from behind, until
he was within earshot.
"That is the man," the Britisher was saying; "there - with the long
blond hair - speaking to a girl in green."
Silas identified a very handsome young fellow of small stature, who
was plainly the object of this designation.
"It is well," said Madame Zephyrine. "I shall do my utmost. But,
remember, the best of us may fail in such a matter."
"Tut!" returned her companion; "I answer for the result. Have I
not chosen you from thirty? Go; but be wary of the Prince. I
cannot think what cursed accident has brought him here to-night.
As if there were not a dozen balls in Paris better worth his notice
than this riot of students and counter-jumpers! See him where he
sits, more like a reigning Emperor at home than a Prince upon his
Silas was again lucky. He observed a person of rather a full
build, strikingly handsome, and of a very stately and courteous
demeanour, seated at table with another handsome young man, several
years his junior, who addressed him with conspicuous deference.
The name of Prince struck gratefully on Silas's Republican hearing,
and the aspect of the person to whom that name was applied
exercised its usual charm upon his mind. He left Madame Zephyrine
and her Englishman to take care of each other, and threading his
way through the assembly, approached the table which the Prince and
his confidant had honoured with their choice.
"I tell you, Geraldine," the former was saying, "the action is
madness. Yourself (I am glad to remember it) chose your brother
for this perilous service, and you are bound in duty to have a
guard upon his conduct. He has consented to delay so many days in
Paris; that was already an imprudence, considering the character of
the man he has to deal with; but now, when he is within eight-andforty
hours of his departure, when he is within two or three days
of the decisive trial, I ask you, is this a place for him to spend
his time? He should be in a gallery at practice; he should be
sleeping long hours and taking moderate exercise on foot; he should
be on a rigorous diet, without white wines or brandy. Does the dog
imagine we are all playing comedy? The thing is deadly earnest,
"I know the lad too well to interfere," replied Colonel Geraldine,
"and well enough not to be alarmed. He is more cautious than you
fancy, and of an indomitable spirit. If it had been a woman I
should not say so much, but I trust the President to him and the
two valets without an instant's apprehension."
"I am gratified to hear you say so," replied the Prince; "but my
mind is not at rest. These servants are well-trained spies, and
already has not this miscreant succeeded three times in eluding
their observation and spending several hours on end in private, and
most likely dangerous, affairs? An amateur might have lost him by
accident, but if Rudolph and Jerome were thrown off the scent, it
must have been done on purpose, and by a man who had a cogent
reason and exceptional resources."
"I believe the question is now one between my brother and myself,"
replied Geraldine, with a shade of offence in his tone.
"I permit it to be so, Colonel Geraldine," returned Prince
Florizel. "Perhaps, for that very reason, you should be all the
more ready to accept my counsels. But enough. That girl in yellow
dances well."
And the talk veered into the ordinary topics of a Paris ballroom in
the Carnival.
Silas remembered where he was, and that the hour was already near
at hand when he ought to be upon the scene of his assignation. The
more he reflected the less he liked the prospect, and as at that
moment an eddy in the crowd began to draw him in the direction of
the door, he suffered it to carry him away without resistance. The
eddy stranded him in a corner under the gallery, where his ear was
immediately struck with the voice of Madame Zephyrine. She was
speaking in French with the young man of the blond locks who had
been pointed out by the strange Britisher not half-an-hour before.
"I have a character at stake," she said, "or I would put no other
condition than my heart recommends. But you have only to say so
much to the porter, and he will let you go by without a word."
"But why this talk of debt?" objected her companion.
"Heavens!" said she, "do you think I do not understand my own
And she went by, clinging affectionately to her companion's arm.
This put Silas in mind of his billet.
"Ten minutes hence," thought he, "and I may be walking with as
beautiful a woman as that, and even better dressed - perhaps a real
lady, possibly a woman or title."
And then he remembered the spelling, and was a little downcast.
"But it may have been written by her maid," he imagined.
The clock was only a few minutes from the hour, and this immediate
proximity set his heart beating at a curious and rather
disagreeable speed. He reflected with relief that he was in no way
bound to put in an appearance. Virtue and cowardice were together,
and he made once more for the door, but this time of his own
accord, and battling against the stream of people which was now
moving in a contrary direction. Perhaps this prolonged resistance
wearied him, or perhaps he was in that frame of mind when merely to
continue in the same determination for a certain number of minutes
produces a reaction and a different purpose. Certainly, at least,
he wheeled about for a third time, and did not stop until he had
found a place of concealment within a few yards of the appointed
Here he went through an agony of spirit, in which he several times
prayed to God for help, for Silas had been devoutly educated. He
had now not the least inclination for the meeting; nothing kept him
from flight but a silly fear lest he should be thought unmanly; but
this was so powerful that it kept head against all other motives;
and although it could not decide him to advance, prevented him from
definitely running away. At last the clock indicated ten minutes
past the hour. Young Scuddamore's spirit began to rise; he peered
round the corner and saw no one at the place of meeting; doubtless
his unknown correspondent had wearied and gone away. He became as
bold as he had formerly been timid. It seemed to him that if he
came at all to the appointment, however late, he was clear from the
charge of cowardice. Nay, now he began to suspect a hoax, and
actually complimented himself on his shrewdness in having suspected
and outmanoeuvred his mystifiers. So very idle a thing is a boy's
Armed with these reflections, he advanced boldly from his corner;
but he had not taken above a couple of steps before a hand was laid
upon his arm. He turned and beheld a lady cast in a very large
mould and with somewhat stately features, but bearing no mark of
severity in her looks.
"I see that you are a very self-confident lady-killer," said she;
"for you make yourself expected. But I was determined to meet you.
When a woman has once so far forgotten herself as to make the first
advance, she has long ago left behind her all considerations of
petty pride."
Silas was overwhelmed by the size and attractions of his
correspondent and the suddenness with which she had fallen upon
him. But she soon set him at his ease. She was very towardly and
lenient in her behaviour; she led him on to make pleasantries, and
then applauded him to the echo; and in a very short time, between
blandishments and a liberal exhibition of warm brandy, she had not
only induced him to fancy himself in love, but to declare his
passion with the greatest vehemence.
"Alas!" she said; "I do not know whether I ought not to deplore
this moment, great as is the pleasure you give me by your words.
Hitherto I was alone to suffer; now, poor boy, there will be two.
I am not my own mistress. I dare not ask you to visit me at my own
house, for I am watched by jealous eyes. Let me see," she added;
"I am older than you, although so much weaker; and while I trust in
your courage and determination, I must employ my own knowledge of
the world for our mutual benefit. Where do you live?"
He told her that he lodged in a furnished hotel, and named the
street and number.
She seemed to reflect for some minutes, with an effort of mind.
"I see," she said at last. "You will be faithful and obedient,
will you not?"
Silas assured her eagerly of his fidelity.
"To-morrow night, then," she continued, with an encouraging smile,
"you must remain at home all the evening; and if any friends should
visit you, dismiss them at once on any pretext that most readily
presents itself. Your door is probably shut by ten?" she asked.
"By eleven," answered Silas.
"At a quarter past eleven," pursued the lady, "leave the house.
Merely cry for the door to be opened, and be sure you fall into no
talk with the porter, as that might ruin everything. Go straight
to the corner where the Luxembourg Gardens join the Boulevard;
there you will find me waiting you. I trust you to follow my
advice from point to point: and remember, if you fail me in only
one particular, you will bring the sharpest trouble on a woman
whose only fault is to have seen and loved you."
"I cannot see the use of all these instructions," said Silas.
"I believe you are already beginning to treat me as a master," she
cried, tapping him with her fan upon the arm. "Patience, patience!
that should come in time. A woman loves to be obeyed at first,
although afterwards she finds her pleasure in obeying. Do as I ask
you, for Heaven's sake, or I will answer for nothing. Indeed, now
I think of it," she added, with the manner of one who has just seen
further into a difficulty, "I find a better plan of keeping
importunate visitors away. Tell the porter to admit no one for
you, except a person who may come that night to claim a debt; and
speak with some feeling, as though you feared the interview, so
that he may take your words in earnest."
"I think you may trust me to protect myself against intruders," he
said, not without a little pique.
"That is how I should prefer the thing arranged," she answered
coldly. "I know you men; you think nothing of a woman's
Silas blushed and somewhat hung his head; for the scheme he had in
view had involved a little vain-glorying before his acquaintances.
"Above all," she added, "do not speak to the porter as you come
"And why?" said he. "Of all your instructions, that seems to me
the least important."
"You at first doubted the wisdom of some of the others, which you
now see to be very necessary," she replied. "Believe me, this also
has its uses; in time you will see them; and what am I to think of
your affection, if you refuse me such trifles at our first
Silas confounded himself in explanations and apologies; in the
middle of these she looked up at the clock and clapped her hands
together with a suppressed scream.
"Heavens!" she cried, "is it so late? I have not an instant to
lose. Alas, we poor women, what slaves we are! What have I not
risked for you already?"
And after repeating her directions, which she artfully combined
with caresses and the most abandoned looks, she bade him farewell
and disappeared among the crowd.
The whole of the next day Silas was filled with a sense of great
importance; he was now sure she was a countess; and when evening
came he minutely obeyed her orders and was at the corner of the
Luxembourg Gardens by the hour appointed. No one was there. He
waited nearly half-an-hour, looking in the face of every one who
passed or loitered near the spot; he even visited the neighbouring
corners of the Boulevard and made a complete circuit of the garden
railings; but there was no beautiful countess to throw herself into
his arms. At last, and most reluctantly, he began to retrace his
steps towards his hotel. On the way he remembered the words he had
heard pass between Madame Zephyrine and the blond young man, and
they gave him an indefinite uneasiness.
"It appears," he reflected, "that every one has to tell lies to our
He rang the bell, the door opened before him, and the porter in his
bed-clothes came to offer him a light.
"Has he gone?" inquired the porter.
"He? Whom do you mean?" asked Silas, somewhat sharply, for he was
irritated by his disappointment.
"I did not notice him go out," continued the porter, "but I trust
you paid him. We do not care, in this house, to have lodgers who
cannot meet their liabilities."
"What the devil do you mean?" demanded Silas rudely. "I cannot
understand a word of this farrago."
"The short blond young man who came for his debt," returned the
other. "Him it is I mean. Who else should it be, when I had your
orders to admit no one else?"
"Why, good God, of course he never came," retorted Silas.
"I believe what I believe," returned the porter, putting his tongue
into his cheek with a most roguish air.
"You are an insolent scoundrel," cried Silas, and, feeling that he
had made a ridiculous exhibition of asperity, and at the same time
bewildered by a dozen alarms, he turned and began to run upstairs.
"Do you not want a light then?" cried the porter.
But Silas only hurried the faster, and did not pause until he had
reached the seventh landing and stood in front of his own door.
There he waited a moment to recover his breath, assailed by the
worst forebodings and almost dreading to enter the room.
When at last he did so he was relieved to find it dark, and to all
appearance, untenanted. He drew a long breath. Here he was, home
again in safety, and this should be his last folly as certainly as
it had been his first. The matches stood on a little table by the
bed, and he began to grope his way in that direction. As he moved,
his apprehensions grew upon him once more, and he was pleased, when
his foot encountered an obstacle, to find it nothing more alarming
than a chair. At last he touched curtains. From the position of
the window, which was faintly visible, he knew he must be at the
foot of the bed, and had only to feel his way along it in order to
reach the table in question.
He lowered his hand, but what it touched was not simply a
counterpane - it was a counterpane with something underneath it
like the outline of a human leg. Silas withdrew his arm and stood
a moment petrified.
"What, what," he thought, "can this betoken?"
He listened intently, but there was no sound of breathing. Once
more, with a great effort, he reached out the end of his finger to
the spot he had already touched; but this time he leaped back half
a yard, and stood shivering and fixed with terror. There was
something in his bed. What it was he knew not, but there was
something there.
It was some seconds before he could move. Then, guided by an
instinct, he fell straight upon the matches, and keeping his back
towards the bed lighted a candle. As soon as the flame had
kindled, he turned slowly round and looked for what he feared to
see. Sure enough, there was the worst of his imaginations
realised. The coverlid was drawn carefully up over the pillow, but
it moulded the outline of a human body lying motionless; and when
he dashed forward and flung aside the sheets, he beheld the blond
young man whom he had seen in the Bullier Ball the night before,
his eyes open and without speculation, his face swollen and
blackened, and a thin stream of blood trickling from his nostrils.
Silas uttered a long, tremulous wail, dropped the candle, and fell
on his knees beside the bed.
Silas was awakened from the stupor into which his terrible
discovery had plunged him by a prolonged but discreet tapping at
the door. It took him some seconds to remember his position; and
when he hastened to prevent anyone from entering it was already too
late. Dr. Noel, in a tall night-cap, carrying a lamp which lighted
up his long white countenance, sidling in his gait, and peering and
cocking his head like some sort of bird, pushed the door slowly
open, and advanced into the middle of the room.
"I thought I heard a cry," began the Doctor, "and fearing you might
be unwell I did not hesitate to offer this intrusion."
Silas, with a flushed face and a fearful beating heart, kept
between the Doctor and the bed; but he found no voice to answer.
"You are in the dark," pursued the Doctor; "and yet you have not
even begun to prepare for rest. You will not easily persuade me
against my own eyesight; and your face declares most eloquently
that you require either a friend or a physician - which is it to
be? Let me feel your pulse, for that is often a just reporter of
the heart."
He advanced to Silas, who still retreated before him backwards, and
sought to take him by the wrist; but the strain on the young
American's nerves had become too great for endurance. He avoided
the Doctor with a febrile movement, and, throwing himself upon the
floor, burst into a flood of weeping.
As soon as Dr. Noel perceived the dead man in the bed his face
darkened; and hurrying back to the door which he had left ajar, he
hastily closed and double-locked it.
"Up!" he cried, addressing Silas in strident tones; "this is no
time for weeping. What have you done? How came this body in your
room? Speak freely to one who may be helpful. Do you imagine I
would ruin you? Do you think this piece of dead flesh on your
pillow can alter in any degree the sympathy with which you have
inspired me? Credulous youth, the horror with which blind and
unjust law regards an action never attaches to the doer in the eyes
of those who love him; and if I saw the friend of my heart return
to me out of seas of blood he would be in no way changed in my
affection. Raise yourself," he said; "good and ill are a chimera;
there is nought in life except destiny, and however you may be
circumstanced there is one at your side who will help you to the
Thus encouraged, Silas gathered himself together, and in a broken
voice, and helped out by the Doctor's interrogations, contrived at
last to put him in possession of the facts. But the conversation
between the Prince and Geraldine he altogether omitted, as he had
understood little of its purport, and had no idea that it was in
any way related to his own misadventure.
"Alas!" cried Dr. Noel, "I am much abused, or you have fallen
innocently into the most dangerous hands in Europe. Poor boy, what
a pit has been dug for your simplicity! into what a deadly peril
have your unwary feet been conducted! This man," he said, "this
Englishman, whom you twice saw, and whom I suspect to be the soul
of the contrivance, can you describe him? Was he young or old?
tall or short?"
But Silas, who, for all his curiosity, had not a seeing eye in his
head, was able to supply nothing but meagre generalities, which it
was impossible to recognise.
"I would have it a piece of education in all schools!" cried the
Doctor angrily. "Where is the use of eyesight and articulate
speech if a man cannot observe and recollect the features of his
enemy? I, who know all the gangs of Europe, might have identified
him, and gained new weapons for your defence. Cultivate this art
in future, my poor boy; you may find it of momentous service."
"The future!" repeated Silas. "What future is there left for me
except the gallows?"
"Youth is but a cowardly season," returned the Doctor; "and a man's
own troubles look blacker than they are. I am old, and yet I never
"Can I tell such a story to the police?" demanded Silas.
"Assuredly not," replied the Doctor. "From what I see already of
the machination in which you have been involved, your case is
desperate upon that side; and for the narrow eye of the authorities
you are infallibly the guilty person. And remember that we only
know a portion of the plot; and the same infamous contrivers have
doubtless arranged many other circumstances which would be elicited
by a police inquiry, and help to fix the guilt more certainly upon
your innocence."
"I am then lost, indeed!" cried Silas.
"I have not said so," answered Dr. Noel "for I am a cautious man."
"But look at this!" objected Silas, pointing to the body. "Here is
this object in my bed; not to be explained, not to be disposed of,
not to be regarded without horror."
"Horror?" replied the Doctor. "No. When this sort of clock has
run down, it is no more to me than an ingenious piece of mechanism,
to be investigated with the bistoury. When blood is once cold and
stagnant, it is no longer human blood; when flesh is once dead, it
is no longer that flesh which we desire in our lovers and respect
in our friends. The grace, the attraction, the terror, have all
gone from it with the animating spirit. Accustom yourself to look
upon it with composure; for if my scheme is practicable you will
have to live some days in constant proximity to that which now so
greatly horrifies you."
"Your scheme?" cried Silas. "What is that? Tell me speedily,
Doctor; for I have scarcely courage enough to continue to exist."
Without replying, Doctor Noel turned towards the bed, and proceeded
to examine the corpse.
"Quite dead," he murmured. "Yes, as I had supposed, the pockets
empty. Yes, and the name cut off the shirt. Their work has been
done thoroughly and well. Fortunately, he is of small stature."
Silas followed these words with an extreme anxiety. At last the
Doctor, his autopsy completed, took a chair and addressed the young
American with a smile.
"Since I came into your room," said he, "although my ears and my
tongue have been so busy, I have not suffered my eyes to remain
idle. I noted a little while ago that you have there, in the
corner, one of those monstrous constructions which your fellowcountrymen
carry with them into all quarters of the globe - in a
word, a Saratoga trunk. Until this moment I have never been able
to conceive the utility of these erections; but then I began to
have a glimmer. Whether it was for convenience in the slave trade,
or to obviate the results of too ready an employment of the bowieknife,
I cannot bring myself to decide. But one thing I see
plainly - the object of such a box is to contain a human body.
"Surely," cried Silas, "surely this is not a time for jesting."
"Although I may express myself with some degree of pleasantry,"
replied the Doctor, "the purport of my words is entirely serious.
And the first thing we have to do, my young friend, is to empty
your coffer of all that it contains."
Silas, obeying the authority of Doctor Noel, put himself at his
disposition. The Saratoga trunk was soon gutted of its contents,
which made a considerable litter on the floor; and then - Silas
taking the heels and the Doctor supporting the shoulders - the body
of the murdered man was carried from the bed, and, after some
difficulty, doubled up and inserted whole into the empty box. With
an effort on the part of both, the lid was forced down upon this
unusual baggage, and the trunk was locked and corded by the
Doctor's own hand, while Silas disposed of what had been taken out
between the closet and a chest of drawers.
"Now," said the Doctor, "the first step has been taken on the way
to your deliverance. To-morrow, or rather to-day, it must be your
task to allay the suspicions of your porter, paying him all that
you owe; while you may trust me to make the arrangements necessary
to a safe conclusion. Meantime, follow me to my room, where I
shall give you a safe and powerful opiate; for, whatever you do,
you must have rest."
The next day was the longest in Silas's memory; it seemed as if it
would never be done. He denied himself to his friends, and sat in
a corner with his eyes fixed upon the Saratoga trunk in dismal
contemplation. His own former indiscretions were now returned upon
him in kind; for the observatory had been once more opened, and he
was conscious of an almost continual study from Madame Zephyrine's
apartment. So distressing did this become, that he was at last
obliged to block up the spy-hole from his own side; and when he was
thus secured from observation he spent a considerable portion of
his time in contrite tears and prayer.
Late in the evening Dr. Noel entered the room carrying in his hand
a pair of sealed envelopes without address, one somewhat bulky, and
the other so slim as to seem without enclosure.
"Silas," he said, seating himself at the table, "the time has now
come for me to explain my plan for your salvation. To-morrow
morning, at an early hour, Prince Florizel of Bohemia returns to
London, after having diverted himself for a few days with the
Parisian Carnival. It was my fortune, a good while ago, to do
Colonel Geraldine, his Master of the Horse, one of those services,
so common in my profession, which are never forgotten upon either
side. I have no need to explain to you the nature of the
obligation under which he was laid; suffice it to say that I knew
him ready to serve me in any practicable manner. Now, it was
necessary for you to gain London with your trunk unopened. To this
the Custom House seemed to oppose a fatal difficulty; but I
bethought me that the baggage of so considerable a person as the
Prince, is, as a matter of courtesy, passed without examination by
the officers of Custom. I applied to Colonel Geraldine, and
succeeded in obtaining a favourable answer. To-morrow, if you go
before six to the hotel where the Prince lodges, your baggage will
be passed over as a part of his, and you yourself will make the
journey as a member of his suite."
"It seems to me, as you speak, that I have already seen both the
Prince and Colonel Geraldine; I even overheard some of their
conversation the other evening at the Bullier Ball."
"It is probable enough; for the Prince loves to mix with all
societies," replied the Doctor. "Once arrived in London," he
pursued, "your task is nearly ended. In this more bulky envelope I
have given you a letter which I dare not address; but in the other
you will find the designation of the house to which you must carry
it along with your box, which will there be taken from you and not
trouble you any more."
"Alas!" said Silas, "I have every wish to believe you; but how is
it possible? You open up to me a bright prospect, but, I ask you,
is my mind capable of receiving so unlikely a solution? Be more
generous, and let me further understand your meaning."
The Doctor seemed painfully impressed.
"Boy," he answered, "you do not know how hard a thing you ask of
me. But be it so. I am now inured to humiliation; and it would be
strange if I refused you this, after having granted you so much.
Know, then, that although I now make so quiet an appearance -
frugal, solitary, addicted to study - when I was younger, my name
was once a rallying-cry among the most astute and dangerous spirits
of London; and while I was outwardly an object for respect and
consideration, my true power resided in the most secret, terrible,
and criminal relations. It is to one of the persons who then
obeyed me that I now address myself to deliver you from your
burden. They were men of many different nations and dexterities,
all bound together by a formidable oath, and working to the same
purposes; the trade of the association was in murder; and I who
speak to you, innocent as I appear, was the chieftain of this
redoubtable crew."
"What?" cried Silas. "A murderer? And one with whom murder was a
trade? Can I take your hand? Ought I so much as to accept your
services? Dark and criminal old man, would you make an accomplice
of my youth and my distress?"
The Doctor bitterly laughed.
"You are difficult to please, Mr. Scuddamore," said he; "but I now
offer you your choice of company between the murdered man and the
murderer. If your conscience is too nice to accept my aid, say so,
and I will immediately leave you. Thenceforward you can deal with
your trunk and its belongings as best suits your upright
"I own myself wrong," replied Silas. "I should have remembered how
generously you offered to shield me, even before I had convinced
you of my innocence, and I continue to listen to your counsels with
"That is well," returned the Doctor; "and I perceive you are
beginning to learn some of the lessons of experience."
"At the same time," resumed the New-Englander, "as you confess
yourself accustomed o this tragical business, and the people to
whom you recommend me are your own former associates and friends,
could you not yourself undertake the transport of the box, and rid
me at once of its detested presence?"
"Upon my word," replied the Doctor, "I admire you cordially. If
you do not think I have already meddled sufficiently in your
concerns, believe me, from my heart I think the contrary. Take or
leave my services as I offer them; and trouble me with no more
words of gratitude, for I value your consideration even more
lightly than I do your intellect. A time will come, if you should
be spared to see a number of years in health of mind, when you will
think differently of all this, and blush for your to-night's
So saying, the Doctor arose from his chair, repeated his directions
briefly and clearly, and departed from the room without permitting
Silas any time to answer.
The next morning Silas presented himself at the hotel, where he was
politely received by Colonel Geraldine, and relieved, from that
moment, of all immediate alarm about his trunk and its grisly
contents. The journey passed over without much incident, although
the young man was horrified to overhear the sailors and railway
porters complaining among themselves about the unusual weight of
the Prince's baggage. Silas travelled in a carriage with the
valets, for Prince Florizel chose to be alone with his Master of
the Horse. On board the steamer, however, Silas attracted his
Highness's attention by the melancholy of his air and attitude as
he stood gazing at the pile of baggage; for he was still full of
disquietude about the future.
"There is a young man," observed the Prince, "who must have some
cause for sorrow."
"That," replied Geraldine, "is the American for whom I obtained
permission to travel with your suite."
"You remind me that I have been remiss in courtesy," said Prince
Florizel, and advancing to Silas, he addressed him with the most
exquisite condescension in these words:- "I was charmed, young sir,
to be able to gratify the desire you made known to me through
Colonel Geraldine. Remember, if you please, that I shall be glad
at any future time to lay you under a more serious obligation."
And he then put some questions as to the political condition of
America, which Silas answered with sense and propriety.
"You are still a young man," said the Prince; "but I observe you to
be very serious for your years. Perhaps you allow your attention
to be too much occupied with grave studies. But, perhaps, on the
other hand, I am myself indiscreet and touch upon a painful
"I have certainly cause to be the most miserable of men," said
Silas; "never has a more innocent person been more dismally
"I will not ask you for your confidence," returned Prince Florizel.
"But do not forget that Colonel Geraldine's recommendation is an
unfailing passport; and that I am not only willing, but possibly
more able than many others, to do you a service."
Silas was delighted with the amiability of this great personage;
but his mind soon returned upon its gloomy preoccupations; for not
even the favour of a Prince to a Republican can discharge a
brooding spirit of its cares.
The train arrived at Charing Cross, where the officers of the
Revenue respected the baggage of Prince Florizel in the usual
manner. The most elegant equipages were in waiting; and Silas was
driven, along with the rest, to the Prince's residence. There
Colonel Geraldine sought him out, and expressed himself pleased to
have been of any service to a friend of the physician's, for whom
he professed a great consideration.
"I hope," he added, "that you will find none of your porcelain
injured. Special orders were given along the line to deal tenderly
with the Prince's effects."
And then, directing the servants to place one of the carriages at
the young gentleman's disposal, and at once to charge the Saratoga
trunk upon the dickey, the Colonel shook hands and excused himself
on account of his occupations in the princely household.
Silas now broke the seal of the envelope containing the address,
and directed the stately footman to drive him to Box Court, opening
off the Strand. It seemed as if the place were not at all unknown
to the man, for he looked startled and begged a repetition of the
order. It was with a heart full of alarms, that Silas mounted into
the luxurious vehicle, and was driven to his destination. The
entrance to Box Court was too narrow for the passage of a coach; it
was a mere footway between railings, with a post at either end. On
one of these posts was seated a man, who at once jumped down and
exchanged a friendly sign with the driver, while the footman opened
the door and inquired of Silas whether he should take down the
Saratoga trunk, and to what number it should be carried.
"If you please," said Silas. "To number three."
The footman and the man who had been sitting on the post, even with
the aid of Silas himself, had hard work to carry in the trunk; and
before it was deposited at the door of the house in question, the
young American was horrified to find a score of loiterers looking
on. But he knocked with as good a countenance as he could muster
up, and presented the other envelope to him who opened.
"He is not at home," said he, "but if you will leave your letter
and return to-morrow early, I shall be able to inform you whether
and when he can receive your visit. Would you like to leave your
box?" he added.
"Dearly," cried Silas; and the next moment he repented his
precipitation, and declared, with equal emphasis, that he would
rather carry the box along with him to the hotel.
The crowd jeered at his indecision and followed him to the carriage
with insulting remarks; and Silas, covered with shame and terror,
implored the servants to conduct him to some quiet and comfortable
house of entertainment in the immediate neighbourhood.
The Prince's equipage deposited Silas at the Craven Hotel in Craven
Street, and immediately drove away, leaving him alone with the
servants of the inn. The only vacant room, it appeared, was a
little den up four pairs of stairs, and looking towards the back.
To this hermitage, with infinite trouble and complaint, a pair of
stout porters carried the Saratoga trunk. It is needless to
mention that Silas kept closely at their heels throughout the
ascent, and had his heart in his mouth at every corner. A single
false step, he reflected, and the box might go over the banisters
and land its fatal contents, plainly discovered, on the pavement of
the hall.
Arrived in the room, he sat down on the edge of his bed to recover
from the agony that he had just endured; but he had hardly taken
his position when he was recalled to a sense of his peril by the
action of the boots, who had knelt beside the trunk, and was
proceeding officiously to undo its elaborate fastenings.
"Let it be!" cried Silas. "I shall want nothing from it while I
stay here."
"You might have let it lie in the hall, then," growled the man; "a
thing as big and heavy as a church. What you have inside I cannot
fancy. If it is all money, you are a richer man than me."
"Money?" repeated Silas, in a sudden perturbation. "What do you
mean by money? I have no money, and you are speaking like a fool."
"All right, captain," retorted the boots with a wink. "There's
nobody will touch your lordship's money. I'm as safe as the bank,"
he added; "but as the box is heavy, I shouldn't mind drinking
something to your lordship's health."
Silas pressed two Napoleons upon his acceptance, apologising, at
the same time, for being obliged to trouble him with foreign money,
and pleading his recent arrival for excuse. And the man, grumbling
with even greater fervour, and looking contemptuously from the
money in his hand to the Saratoga trunk and back again from the one
to the other, at last consented to withdraw.
For nearly two days the dead body had been packed into Silas's box;
and as soon as he was alone the unfortunate New-Englander nosed all
the cracks and openings with the most passionate attention. But
the weather was cool, and the trunk still managed to contain his
shocking secret.
He took a chair beside it, and buried his face in his hands, and
his mind in the most profound reflection. If he were not speedily
relieved, no question but he must be speedily discovered. Alone in
a strange city, without friends or accomplices, if the Doctor's
introduction failed him, he was indubitably a lost New-Englander.
He reflected pathetically over his ambitious designs for the
future; he should not now become the hero and spokesman of his
native place of Bangor, Maine; he should not, as he had fondly
anticipated, move on from office to office, from honour to honour;
he might as well divest himself at once of all hope of being
acclaimed President of the United States, and leaving behind him a
statue, in the worst possible style of art, to adorn the Capitol at
Washington. Here he was, chained to a dead Englishman doubled up
inside a Saratoga trunk; whom he must get rid of, or perish from
the rolls of national glory!
I should be afraid to chronicle the language employed by this young
man to the Doctor, to the murdered man, to Madame Zephyrine, to the
boots of the hotel, to the Prince's servants, and, in a word, to
all who had been ever so remotely connected with his horrible
He slunk down to dinner about seven at night; but the yellow
coffee-room appalled him, the eyes of the other diners seemed to
rest on his with suspicion, and his mind remained upstairs with the
Saratoga trunk. When the waiter came to offer him cheese, his
nerves were already so much on edge that he leaped half-way out of
his chair and upset the remainder of a pint of ale upon the tablecloth.
The fellow offered to show him to the smoking-room when he had
done; and although he would have much preferred to return at once
to his perilous treasure, he had not the courage to refuse, and was
shown downstairs to the black, gas-lit cellar, which formed, and
possibly still forms, the divan of the Craven Hotel.
Two very sad betting men were playing billiards, attended by a
moist, consumptive marker; and for the moment Silas imagined that
these were the only occupants of the apartment. But at the next
glance his eye fell upon a person smoking in the farthest corner,
with lowered eyes and a most respectable and modest aspect. He
knew at once that he had seen the face before; and, in spite of the
entire change of clothes, recognised the man whom he had found
seated on a post at the entrance to Box Court, and who had helped
him to carry the trunk to and from the carriage. The New-Englander
simply turned and ran, nor did he pause until he had locked and
bolted himself into his bedroom.
There, all night long, a prey to the most terrible imaginations, he
watched beside the fatal boxful of dead flesh. The suggestion of
the boots that his trunk was full of gold inspired him with all
manner of new terrors, if he so much as dared to close an eye; and
the presence in the smoking-room, and under an obvious disguise, of
the loiterer from Box Court convinced him that he was once more the
centre of obscure machinations.
Midnight had sounded some time, when, impelled by uneasy
suspicions, Silas opened his bedroom door and peered into the
passage. It was dimly illuminated by a single jet of gas; and some
distance off he perceived a man sleeping on the floor in the
costume of an hotel under-servant. Silas drew near the man on
tiptoe. He lay partly on his back, partly on his side, and his
right forearm concealed his face from recognition. Suddenly, while
the American was still bending over him, the sleeper removed his
arm and opened his eyes, and Silas found himself once more face to
face with the loiterer of Box Court.
"Good-night, sir," said the man, pleasantly.
But Silas was too profoundly moved to find an answer, and regained
his room in silence.
Towards morning, worn out by apprehension, he fell asleep on his
chair, with his head forward on the trunk. In spite of so
constrained an attitude and such a grisly pillow, his slumber was
sound and prolonged, and he was only awakened at a late hour and by
a sharp tapping at the door.
He hurried to open, and found the boots without.
"You are the gentleman who called yesterday at Box Court?" he
Silas, with a quaver, admitted that he had done so.
"Then this note is for you," added the servant, proffering a sealed
Silas tore it open, and found inside the words: "Twelve o'clock."
He was punctual to the hour; the trunk was carried before him by
several stout servants; and he was himself ushered into a room,
where a man sat warming himself before the fire with his back
towards the door. The sound of so many persons entering and
leaving, and the scraping of the trunk as it was deposited upon the
bare boards, were alike unable to attract the notice of the
occupant; and Silas stood waiting, in an agony of fear, until he
should deign to recognise his presence.
Perhaps five minutes had elapsed before the man turned leisurely
about, and disclosed the features of Prince Florizel of Bohemia.
"So, sir," he said, with great severity, "this is the manner in
which you abuse my politeness. You join yourselves to persons of
condition, I perceive, for no other purpose than to escape the
consequences of your crimes; and I can readily understand your
embarrassment when I addressed myself to you yesterday."
"Indeed," cried Silas, "I am innocent of everything except
And in a hurried voice, and with the greatest ingenuousness, he
recounted to the Prince the whole history of his calamity.
"I see I have been mistaken," said his Highness, when he had heard
him to an end. "You are no other than a victim, and since I am not
to punish you may be sure I shall do my utmost to help. And now,"
he continued, "to business. Open your box at once, and let me see
what it contains."
Silas changed colour.
"I almost fear to look upon it," he exclaimed.
"Nay," replied the Prince, "have you not looked at it already?
This is a form of sentimentality to be resisted. The sight of a
sick man, whom we can still help, should appeal more directly to
the feelings than that of a dead man who is equally beyond help or
harm, love or hatred. Nerve yourself, Mr. Scuddamore," and then,
seeing that Silas still hesitated, "I do not desire to give another
name to my request," he added.
The young American awoke as if out of a dream, and with a shiver of
repugnance addressed himself to loose the straps and open the lock
of the Saratoga trunk. The Prince stood by, watching with a
composed countenance and his hands behind his back. The body was
quite stiff, and it cost Silas a great effort, both moral and
physical, to dislodge it from its position, and discover the face.
Prince Florizel started back with an exclamation of painful
"Alas!" he cried, "you little know, Mr. Scuddamore, what a cruel
gift you have brought me. This is a young man of my own suite, the
brother of my trusted friend; and it was upon matters of my own
service that he has thus perished at the hands of violent and
treacherous men. Poor Geraldine," he went on, as if to himself,
"in what words am I to tell you of your brother's fate? How can I
excuse myself in your eyes, or in the eyes of God, for the
presumptuous schemes that led him to this bloody and unnatural
death? Ah, Florizel! Florizel! when will you learn the discretion
that suits mortal life, and be no longer dazzled with the image of
power at your disposal? Power!" he cried; "who is more powerless?
I look upon this young man whom I have sacrificed, Mr. Scuddamore,
and feel how small a thing it is to be a Prince."
Silas was moved at the sight of his emotion. He tried to murmur
some consolatory words, and burst into tears.
The Prince, touched by his obvious intention, came up to him and
took him by the hand.
"Command yourself," said he. "We have both much to learn, and we
shall both be better men for to-day's meeting."
Silas thanked him in silence with an affectionate look.
"Write me the address of Doctor Noel on this piece of paper,"
continued the Prince, leading him towards the table; "and let me
recommend you, when you are again in Paris, to avoid the society of
that dangerous man. He has acted in this matter on a generous
inspiration; that I must believe; had he been privy to young
Geraldine's death he would never have despatched the body to the
care of the actual criminal."
"The actual criminal!" repeated Silas in astonishment.
"Even so," returned the Prince. "This letter, which the
disposition of Almighty Providence has so strangely delivered into
my hands, was addressed to no less a person than the criminal
himself, the infamous President of the Suicide Club. Seek to pry
no further in these perilous affairs, but content yourself with
your own miraculous escape, and leave this house at once. I have
pressing affairs, and must arrange at once about this poor clay,
which was so lately a gallant and handsome youth."
Silas took a grateful and submissive leave of Prince Florizel, but
he lingered in Box Court until he saw him depart in a splendid
carriage on a visit to Colonel Henderson of the police. Republican
as he was, the young American took off his hat with almost a
sentiment of devotion to the retreating carriage. And the same
night he started by rail on his return to Paris.
Here (observes my Arabian author) is the end of THE HISTORY OF THE
PHYSICIAN AND THE SARATOGA TRUNK. Omitting some reflections on the
power of Providence, highly pertinent in the original, but little
suited to our occiddental taste, I shall only add that Mr.
Scuddamore has already begun to mount the ladder of political fame,
and by last advices was the Sheriff of his native town.
Lieutenant Brackenbury Rich had greatly distinguished himself in
one of the lesser Indian hill wars. He it was who took the
chieftain prisoner with his own hand; his gallantry was universally
applauded; and when he came home, prostrated by an ugly sabre cut
and a protracted jungle fever, society was prepared to welcome the
Lieutenant as a celebrity of minor lustre. But his was a character
remarkable for unaffected modesty; adventure was dear to his heart,
but he cared little for adulation; and he waited at foreign
watering-places and in Algiers until the fame of his exploits had
run through its nine days' vitality and begun to be forgotten. He
arrived in London at last, in the early season, with as little
observation as he could desire; and as he was an orphan and had
none but distant relatives who lived in the provinces, it was
almost as a foreigner that he installed himself in the capital of
the country for which he had shed his blood.
On the day following his arrival he dined alone at a military club.
He shook hands with a few old comrades, and received their warm
congratulations; but as one and all had some engagement for the
evening, he found himself left entirely to his own resources. He
was in dress, for he had entertained the notion of visiting a
theatre. But the great city was new to him; he had gone from a
provincial school to a military college, and thence direct to the
Eastern Empire; and he promised himself a variety of delights in
this world for exploration. Swinging his cane, he took his way
westward. It was a mild evening, already dark, and now and then
threatening rain. The succession of faces in the lamplight stirred
the Lieutenant's imagination; and it seemed to him as if he could
walk for ever in that stimulating city atmosphere and surrounded by
the mystery of four million private lives. He glanced at the
houses, and marvelled what was passing behind those warmly-lighted
windows; he looked into face after face, and saw them each intent
upon some unknown interest, criminal or kindly.
"They talk of war," he thought, "but this is the great battlefield
of mankind."
And then he began to wonder that he should walk so long in this
complicated scene, and not chance upon so much as the shadow of an
adventure for himself.
"All in good time," he reflected. "I am still a stranger, and
perhaps wear a strange air. But I must be drawn into the eddy
before long."
The night was already well advanced when a plump of cold rain fell
suddenly out of the darkness. Brackenbury paused under some trees,
and as he did so he caught sight of a hansom cabman making him a
sign that he was disengaged. The circumstance fell in so happily
to the occasion that he at once raised his cane in answer, and had
soon ensconced himself in the London gondola.
"Where to, sir?" asked the driver.
"Where you please," said Brackenbury.
And immediately, at a pace of surprising swiftness, the hansom
drove off through the rain into a maze of villas. One villa was so
like another, each with its front garden, and there was so little
to distinguish the deserted lamp-lit streets and crescents through
which the flying hansom took its way, that Brackenbury soon lost
all idea of direction.
He would have been tempted to believe that the cabman was amusing
himself by driving him round and round and in and out about a small
quarter, but there was something business-like in the speed which
convinced him of the contrary. The man had an object in view, he
was hastening towards a definite end; and Brackenbury was at once
astonished at the fellow's skill in picking a way through such a
labyrinth, and a little concerned to imagine what was the occasion
of his hurry. He had heard tales of strangers falling ill in
London. Did the driver belong to some bloody and treacherous
association? and was he himself being whirled to a murderous death?
The thought had scarcely presented itself, when the cab swung
sharply round a corner and pulled up before the garden gate of a
villa in a long and wide road. The house was brilliantly lighted
up. Another hansom had just driven away, and Brackenbury could see
a gentleman being admitted at the front door and received by
several liveried servants. He was surprised that the cabman should
have stopped so immediately in front of a house where a reception
was being held; but he did not doubt it was the result of accident,
and sat placidly smoking where he was, until he heard the trap
thrown open over his head.
"Here we are, sir," said the driver.
"Here!" repeated Brackenbury. "Where?"
"You told me to take you where I pleased, sir," returned the man
with a chuckle, "and here we are."
It struck Brackenbury that the voice was wonderfully smooth and
courteous for a man in so inferior a position; he remembered the
speed at which he had been driven; and now it occurred to him that
the hansom was more luxuriously appointed than the common run of
public conveyances.
"I must ask you to explain," said he. "Do you mean to turn me out
into the rain? My good man, I suspect the choice is mine."
"The choice is certainly yours," replied the driver; "but when I
tell you all, I believe I know how a gentleman of your figure will
decide. There is a gentlemen's party in this house. I do not know
whether the master be a stranger to London and without
acquaintances of his own; or whether he is a man of odd notions.
But certainly I was hired to kidnap single gentlemen in evening
dress, as many as I pleased, but military officers by preference.
You have simply to go in and say that Mr. Morris invited you."
"Are you Mr. Morris?" inquired the Lieutenant.
"Oh, no," replied the cabman. "Mr. Morris is the person of the
"It is not a common way of collecting guests," said Brackenbury:
"but an eccentric man might very well indulge the whim without any
intention to offend. And suppose that I refuse Mr. Morris's
invitation," he went on, "what then?"
"My orders are to drive you back where I took you from," replied
the man, "and set out to look for others up to midnight. Those who
have no fancy for such an adventure, Mr. Morris said, were not the
guests for him."
These words decided the Lieutenant on the spot.
"After all," he reflected, as he descended from the hansom, "I have
not had long to wait for my adventure."
He had hardly found footing on the side-walk, and was still feeling
in his pocket for the fare, when the cab swung about and drove off
by the way it came at the former break-neck velocity. Brackenbury
shouted after the man, who paid no heed, and continued to drive
away; but the sound of his voice was overheard in the house, the
door was again thrown open, emitting a flood of light upon the
garden, and a servant ran down to meet him holding an umbrella.
"The cabman has been paid," observed the servant in a very civil
tone; and he proceeded to escort Brackenbury along the path and up
the steps. In the hall several other attendants relieved him of
his hat, cane, and paletot, gave him a ticket with a number in
return, and politely hurried him up a stair adorned with tropical
flowers, to the door of an apartment on the first storey. Here a
grave butler inquired his name, and announcing "Lieutenant
Brackenbury Rich," ushered him into the drawing-room of the house.
A young man, slender and singularly handsome, came forward and
greeted him with an air at once courtly and affectionate. Hundreds
of candles, of the finest wax, lit up a room that was perfumed,
like the staircase, with a profusion of rare and beautiful
flowering shrubs. A side-table was loaded with tempting viands.
Several servants went to and fro with fruits and goblets of
champagne. The company was perhaps sixteen in number, all men, few
beyond the prime of life, and with hardly an exception, of a
dashing and capable exterior. They were divided into two groups,
one about a roulette board, and the other surrounding a table at
which one of their number held a bank of baccarat.
"I see," thought Brackenbury, "I am in a private gambling saloon,
and the cabman was a tout."
His eye had embraced the details, and his mind formed the
conclusion, while his host was still holding him by the hand; and
to him his looks returned from this rapid survey. At a second view
Mr. Morris surprised him still more than on the first. The easy
elegance of his manners, the distinction, amiability, and courage
that appeared upon his features, fitted very ill with the
Lieutenant's preconceptions on the subject of the proprietor of a
hell; and the tone of his conversation seemed to mark him out for a
man of position and merit. Brackenbury found he had an instinctive
liking for his entertainer; and though he chid himself for the
weakness, he was unable to resist a sort of friendly attraction for
Mr. Morris's person and character.
"I have heard of you, Lieutenant Rich," said Mr. Morris, lowering
his tone; "and believe me I am gratified to make your acquaintance.
Your looks accord with the reputation that has preceded you from
India. And if you will forget for a while the irregularity of your
presentation in my house, I shall feel it not only an honour, but a
genuine pleasure besides. A man who makes a mouthful of barbarian
cavaliers," he added with a laugh, "should not be appalled by a
breach of etiquette, however serious."
And he led him towards the sideboard and pressed him to partake of
some refreshment.
"Upon my word," the Lieutenant reflected, "this is one of the
pleasantest fellows and, I do not doubt, one of the most agreeable
societies in London."
He partook of some champagne, which he found excellent; and
observing that many of the company were already smoking, he lit one
of his own Manillas, and strolled up to the roulette board, where
he sometimes made a stake and sometimes looked on smilingly on the
fortune of others. It was while he was thus idling that he became
aware of a sharp scrutiny to which the whole of the guests were
subjected. Mr. Morris went here and there, ostensibly busied on
hospitable concerns; but he had ever a shrewd glance at disposal;
not a man of the party escaped his sudden, searching looks; he took
stock of the bearing of heavy losers, he valued the amount of the
stakes, he paused behind couples who were deep in conversation;
and, in a word, there was hardly a characteristic of any one
present but he seemed to catch and make a note of it. Brackenbury
began to wonder if this were indeed a gambling hell: it had so
much the air of a private inquisition. He followed Mr. Morris in
all his movements; and although the man had a ready smile, he
seemed to perceive, as it were under a mask, a haggard, careworn,
and preoccupied spirit. The fellows around him laughed and made
their game; but Brackenbury had lost interest in the guests.
"This Morris," thought he, "is no idler in the room. Some deep
purpose inspires him; let it be mine to fathom it."
Now and then Mr. Morris would call one of his visitors aside; and
after a brief colloquy in an ante-room, he would return alone, and
the visitors in question reappeared no more. After a certain
number of repetitions, this performance excited Brackenbury's
curiosity to a high degree. He determined to be at the bottom of
this minor mystery at once; and strolling into the ante-room, found
a deep window recess concealed by curtains of the fashionable
green. Here he hurriedly ensconced himself; nor had he to wait
long before the sound of steps and voices drew near him from the
principal apartment. Peering through the division, he saw Mr.
Morris escorting a fat and ruddy personage, with somewhat the look
of a commercial traveller, whom Brackenbury had already remarked
for his coarse laugh and under-bred behaviour at the table. The
pair halted immediately before the window, so that Brackenbury lost
not a word of the following discourse:-
"I beg you a thousand pardons!" began Mr. Morris, with the most
conciliatory manner; "and, if I appear rude, I am sure you will
readily forgive me. In a place so great as London accidents must
continually happen; and the best that we can hope is to remedy them
with as small delay as possible. I will not deny that I fear you
have made a mistake and honoured my poor house by inadvertence;
for, to speak openly, I cannot at all remember your appearance.
Let me put the question without unnecessary circumlocution -
between gentlemen of honour a word will suffice - Under whose roof
do you suppose yourself to be?"
"That of Mr. Morris," replied the other, with a prodigious display
of confusion, which had been visibly growing upon him throughout
the last few words.
"Mr. John or Mr. James Morris?" inquired the host.
"I really cannot tell you," returned the unfortunate guest. "I am
not personally acquainted with the gentleman, any more than I am
with yourself."
"I see," said Mr. Morris. "There is another person of the same
name farther down the street; and I have no doubt the policeman
will be able to supply you with his number. Believe me, I
felicitate myself on the misunderstanding which has procured me the
pleasure of your company for so long; and let me express a hope
that we may meet again upon a more regular footing. Meantime, I
would not for the world detain you longer from your friends.
John," he added, raising his voice, "will you see that this
gentleman finds his great-coat?"
And with the most agreeable air Mr. Morris escorted his visitor as
far as the ante-room door, where he left him under conduct of the
butler. As he passed the window, on his return to the drawingroom,
Brackenbury could hear him utter a profound sigh, as though
his mind was loaded with a great anxiety, and his nerves already
fatigued with the task on which he was engaged.
For perhaps an hour the hansoms kept arriving with such frequency,
that Mr. Morris had to receive a new guest for every old one that
he sent away, and the company preserved its number undiminished.
But towards the end of that time the arrivals grew few and far
between, and at length ceased entirely, while the process of
elimination was continued with unimpaired activity. The drawingroom
began to look empty: the baccarat was discontinued for lack
of a banker; more than one person said good-night of his own
accord, and was suffered to depart without expostulation; and in
the meanwhile Mr. Morris redoubled in agreeable attentions to those
who stayed behind. He went from group to group and from person to
person with looks of the readiest sympathy and the most pertinent
and pleasing talk; he was not so much like a host as like a
hostess, and there was a feminine coquetry and condescension in his
manner which charmed the hearts of all.
As the guests grew thinner, Lieutenant Rich strolled for a moment
out of the drawing-room into the hall in quest of fresher air. But
he had no sooner passed the threshold of the ante-chamber than he
was brought to a dead halt by a discovery of the most surprising
nature. The flowering shrubs had disappeared from the staircase;
three large furniture waggons stood before the garden gate; the
servants were busy dismantling the house upon all sides; and some
of them had already donned their great-coats and were preparing to
depart. It was like the end of a country ball, where everything
has been supplied by contract. Brackenbury had indeed some matter
for reflection. First, the guests, who were no real guests after
all, had been dismissed; and now the servants, who could hardly be
genuine servants, were actively dispersing.
'"Was the whole establishment a sham?" he asked himself. "The
mushroom of a single night which should disappear before morning?"
Watching a favourable opportunity, Brackenbury dashed upstairs to
the highest regions of the house. It was as he had expected. He
ran from room to room, and saw not a stick of furniture nor so much
as a picture on the walls. Although the house had been painted and
papered, it was not only uninhabited at present, but plainly had
never been inhabited at all. The young officer remembered with
astonishment its specious, settled, and hospitable air on his
It was only at a prodigious cost that the imposture could have been
carried out upon so great a scale.
Who, then, was Mr. Morris? What was his intention in thus playing
the householder for a single night in the remote west of London?
And why did he collect his visitors at hazard from the streets?
Brackenbury remembered that he had already delayed too long, and
hastened to join the company. Many had left during his absence;
and counting the Lieutenant and his host, there were not more than
five persons in the drawing-room - recently so thronged. Mr.
Morris greeted him, as he re-entered the apartment, with a smile,
and immediately rose to his feet.
"It is now time, gentlemen," said he, "to explain my purpose in
decoying you from your amusements. I trust you did not find the
evening hang very dully on your hands; but my object, I will
confess it, was not to entertain your leisure, but to help myself
in an unfortunate necessity. You are all gentlemen," he continued,
"your appearance does you that much justice, and I ask for no
better security. Hence, I speak it without concealment, I ask you
to render me a dangerous and delicate service; dangerous because
you may run the hazard of your lives, and delicate because I must
ask an absolute discretion upon all that you shall see or hear.
From an utter stranger the request is almost comically extravagant;
I am well aware of this; and I would add at once, if there be any
one present who has heard enough, if there be one among the party
who recoils from a dangerous confidence and a piece of Quixotic
devotion to he knows not whom - here is my hand ready, and I shall
wish him good-night and God-speed with all the sincerity in the
A very tall, black man, with a heavy stoop, immediately responded
to this appeal.
"I commend your frankness, Sir," said he; "and, for my part, I go.
I make no reflections; but I cannot deny that you fill me with
suspicious thoughts. I go myself, as I say; and perhaps you will
think I have no right to add words to my example."
"On the contrary," replied Mr. Morris, "I am obliged to you for all
you say. It would be impossible to exaggerate the gravity of my
"Well, gentlemen, what do you say?" said the tall man, addressing
the others. "We have had our evening's frolic; shall we all go
homeward peaceably in a body? You will think well of my suggestion
in the morning, when you see the sun again in innocence and
The speaker pronounced the last words with an intonation which
added to their force; and his face wore a singular expression, full
of gravity and significance. Another of the company rose hastily,
and, with some appearance of alarm, prepared to take his leave.
There were only two who held their ground, Brackenbury and an old
red-nosed cavalry Major; but these two preserved a nonchalant
demeanour, and, beyond a look of intelligence which they rapidly
exchanged, appeared entirely foreign to the discussion that had
just been terminated.
Mr. Morris conducted the deserters as far as the door, which he
closed upon their heels; then he turned round, disclosing a
countenance of mingled relief and animation, and addressed the two
officers as follows.
"I have chosen my men like Joshua in the Bible," said Mr. Morris,
"and I now believe I have the pick of London. Your appearance
pleased my hansom cabmen; then it delighted me; I have watched your
behaviour in a strange company, and under the most unusual
circumstances: I have studied how you played and how you bore your
losses; lastly, I have put you to the test of a staggering
announcement, and you received it like an invitation to dinner. It
is not for nothing," he cried, "that I have been for years the
companion and the pupil of the bravest and wisest potentate in
"At the affair of Bunderchang," observed the Major, "I asked for
twelve volunteers, and every trooper in the ranks replied to my
appeal. But a gaming party is not the same thing as a regiment
under fire. You may be pleased, I suppose, to have found two, and
two who will not fail you at a push. As for the pair who ran away,
I count them among the most pitiful hounds I ever met with.
Lieutenant Rich," he added, addressing Brackenbury, "I have heard
much of you of late; and I cannot doubt but you have also heard of
me. I am Major O'Rooke."
And the veteran tendered his hand, which was red and tremulous, to
the young Lieutenant.
"Who has not?" answered Brackenbury.
"When this little matter is settled," said Mr. Morris, "you will
think I have sufficiently rewarded you; for I could offer neither a
more valuable service than to make him acquainted with the other."
"And now," said Major O'Rooke, "is it a duel?"
"A duel after a fashion," replied Mr. Morris, "a duel with unknown
and dangerous enemies, and, as I gravely fear, a duel to the death.
I must ask you," he continued, "to call me Morris no longer; call
me, if you please, Hammersmith; my real name, as well as that of
another person to whom I hope to present you before long, you will
gratify me by not asking and not seeking to discover for
yourselves. Three days ago the person of whom I speak disappeared
suddenly from home; and, until this morning, I received no hint of
his situation. You will fancy my alarm when I tell you that he is
engaged upon a work of private justice. Bound by an unhappy oath,
too lightly sworn, he finds it necessary, without the help of law,
to rid the earth of an insidious and bloody villain. Already two
of our friends, and one of them my own born brother, have perished
in the enterprise. He himself, or I am much deceived, is taken in
the same fatal toils. But at least he still lives and still hopes,
as this billet sufficiently proves."
And the speaker, no other than Colonel Geraldine, proffered a
letter, thus conceived:-
"Major Hammersmith, - On Wednesday, at 3 A.M., you will be admitted
by the small door to the gardens of Rochester House, Regent's Park,
by a man who is entirely in my interest. I must request you not to
fail me by a second. Pray bring my case of swords, and, if you can
find them, one or two gentlemen of conduct and discretion to whom
my person is unknown. My name must not be used in this affair.
"From his wisdom alone, if he had no other title," pursued Colonel
Geraldine, when the others had each satisfied his curiosity, "my
friend is a man whose directions should implicitly be followed. I
need not tell you, therefore, that I have not so much as visited
the neighbourhood of Rochester House; and that I am still as wholly
in the dark as either of yourselves as to the nature of my friend's
dilemma. I betook myself, as soon as I had received this order, to
a furnishing contractor, and, in a few hours, the house in which we
now are had assumed its late air of festival. My scheme was at
least original; and I am far from regretting an action which has
procured me the services of Major O'Rooke and Lieutenant
Brackenbury Rich. But the servants in the street will have a
strange awakening. The house which this evening was full of lights
and visitors they will find uninhabited and for sale to-morrow
morning. Thus even the most serious concerns," added the Colonel,
"have a merry side."
"And let us add a merry ending," said Brackenbury.
The Colonel consulted his watch.
"It is now hard on two," he said. "We have an hour before us, and
a swift cab is at the door. Tell me if I may count upon your
"During a long life," replied Major O'Rooke, "I never took back my
hand from anything, nor so much as hedged a bet."
Brackenbury signified his readiness in the most becoming terms; and
after they had drunk a glass or two of wine, the Colonel gave each
of them a loaded revolver, and the three mounted into the cab and
drove off for the address in question.
Rochester House was a magnificent residence on the banks of the
canal. The large extent of the garden isolated it in an unusual
degree from the annoyances of neighbourhood. It seemed the PARC
AUX CERFS of some great nobleman or millionaire. As far as could
be seen from the street, there was not a glimmer of light in any of
the numerous windows of the mansion; and the place had a look of
neglect, as though the master had been long from home.
The cab was discharged, and the three gentlemen were not long in
discovering the small door, which was a sort of postern in a lane
between two garden walls. It still wanted ten or fifteen minutes
of the appointed time; the rain fell heavily, and the adventurers
sheltered themselves below some pendant ivy, and spoke in low tones
of the approaching trial.
Suddenly Geraldine raised his finger to command silence, and all
three bent their hearing to the utmost. Through the continuous
noise of the rain, the steps and voices of two men became audible
from the other side of the wall; and, as they drew nearer,
Brackenbury, whose sense of hearing was remarkably acute, could
even distinguish some fragments of their talk.
"Is the grave dug?" asked one.
"It is," replied the other; "behind the laurel hedge. When the job
is done, we can cover it with a pile of stakes."
The first speaker laughed, and the sound of his merriment was
shocking to the listeners on the other side.
"In an hour from now," he said.
And by the sound of the steps it was obvious that the pair had
separated, and were proceeding in contrary directions.
Almost immediately after the postern door was cautiously opened, a
white face was protruded into the lane, and a hand was seen
beckoning to the watchers. In dead silence the three passed the
door, which was immediately locked behind them, and followed their
guide through several garden alleys to the kitchen entrance of the
house. A single candle burned in the great paved kitchen, which
was destitute of the customary furniture; and as the party
proceeded to ascend from thence by a flight of winding stairs, a
prodigious noise of rats testified still more plainly to the
dilapidation of the house.
Their conductor preceded them, carrying the candle. He was a lean
man, much bent, but still agile; and he turned from time to time
and admonished silence and caution by his gestures. Colonel
Geraldine followed on his heels, the case of swords under one arm,
and a pistol ready in the other. Brackenbury's heart beat thickly.
He perceived that they were still in time; but he judged from the
alacrity of the old man that the hour of action must be near at
hand; and the circumstances of this adventure were so obscure and
menacing, the place seemed so well chosen for the darkest acts,
that an older man than Brackenbury might have been pardoned a
measure of emotion as he closed the procession up the winding
At the top the guide threw open a door and ushered the three
officers before him into a small apartment, lighted by a smoky lamp
and the glow of a modest fire. At the chimney corner sat a man in
the early prime of life, and of a stout but courtly and commanding
appearance. His attitude and expression were those of the most
unmoved composure; he was smoking a cheroot with much enjoyment and
deliberation, and on a table by his elbow stood a long glass of
some effervescing beverage which diffused an agreeable odour
through the room.
"Welcome," said he, extending his hand to Colonel Geraldine. "I
knew I might count on your exactitude."
"On my devotion," replied the Colonel, with a bow.
"Present me to your friends," continued the first; and, when that
ceremony had been performed, "I wish, gentlemen," he added, with
the most exquisite affability, "that I could offer you a more
cheerful programme; it is ungracious to inaugurate an acquaintance
upon serious affairs; but the compulsion of events is stronger than
the obligations of good-fellowship. I hope and believe you will be
able to forgive me this unpleasant evening; and for men of your
stamp it will be enough to know that you are conferring a
considerable favour."
"Your Highness," said the Major, "must pardon my bluntness. I am
unable to hide what I know. For some time back I have suspected
Major Hammersmith, but Mr. Godall is unmistakable. To seek two men
in London unacquainted with Prince Florizel of Bohemia was to ask
too much at Fortune's hands."
"Prince Florizel!" cried Brackenbury in amazement.
And he gazed with the deepest interest on the features of the
celebrated personage before him.
"I shall not lament the loss of my incognito," remarked the Prince,
"for it enables me to thank you with the more authority. You would
have done as much for Mr. Godall, I feel sure, as for the Prince of
Bohemia; but the latter can perhaps do more for you. The gain is
mine," he added, with a courteous gesture.
And the next moment he was conversing with the two officers about
the Indian army and the native troops, a subject on which, as on
all others, he had a remarkable fund of information and the
soundest views.
There was something so striking in this man's attitude at a moment
of deadly peril that Brackenbury was overcome with respectful
admiration; nor was he less sensible to the charm of his
conversation or the surprising amenity of his address. Every
gesture, every intonation, was not only noble in itself, but seemed
to ennoble the fortunate mortal for whom it was intended; and
Brackenbury confessed to himself with enthusiasm that this was a
sovereign for whom a brave man might thankfully lay down his life.
Many minutes had thus passed, when the person who had introduced
them into the house, and who had sat ever since in a corner, and
with his watch in his hand, arose and whispered a word into the
Prince's ear.
"It is well, Dr. Noel," replied Florizel, aloud; and then
addressing the others, "You will excuse me, gentlemen," he added,
"if I have to leave you in the dark. The moment now approaches."
Dr. Noel extinguished the lamp. A faint, grey light, premonitory
of the dawn, illuminated the window, but was not sufficient to
illuminate the room; and when the Prince rose to his feet, it was
impossible to distinguish his features or to make a guess at the
nature of the emotion which obviously affected him as he spoke. He
moved towards the door, and placed himself at one side of it in an
attitude of the wariest attention.
"You will have the kindness," he said, "to maintain the strictest
silence, and to conceal yourselves in the densest of the shadow."
The three officers and the physician hastened to obey, and for
nearly ten minutes the only sound in Rochester House was occasioned
by the excursions of the rats behind the woodwork. At the end of
that period, a loud creak of a hinge broke in with surprising
distinctness on the silence; and shortly after, the watchers could
distinguish a slow and cautious tread approaching up the kitchen
stair. At every second step the intruder seemed to pause and lend
an ear, and during these intervals, which seemed of an incalculable
duration, a profound disquiet possessed the spirit of the
listeners. Dr. Noel, accustomed as he was to dangerous emotions,
suffered an almost pitiful physical prostration; his breath
whistled in his lungs, his teeth grated one upon another, and his
joints cracked aloud as he nervously shifted his position.
At last a hand was laid upon the door, and the bolt shot back with
a slight report. There followed another pause, during which
Brackenbury could see the Prince draw himself together noiselessly
as if for some unusual exertion. Then the door opened, letting in
a little more of the light of the morning; and the figure of a man
appeared upon the threshold and stood motionless. He was tall, and
carried a knife in his hand. Even in the twilight they could see
his upper teeth bare and glistening, for his mouth was open like
that of a hound about to leap. The man had evidently been over the
head in water but a minute or two before; and even while he stood
there the drops kept falling from his wet clothes and pattered on
the floor.
The next moment he crossed the threshold. There was a leap, a
stifled cry, an instantaneous struggle; and before Colonel
Geraldine could spring to his aid, the Prince held the man disarmed
and helpless, by the shoulders
"Dr. Noel," he said, "you will be so good as to re-light the lamp."
And relinquishing the charge of his prisoner to Geraldine and
Brackenbury, he crossed the room and set his back against the
chimney-piece. As soon as the lamp had kindled, the party beheld
an unaccustomed sternness on the Prince's features. It was no
longer Florizel, the careless gentleman; it was the Prince of
Bohemia, justly incensed and full of deadly purpose, who now raised
his head and addressed the captive President of the Suicide Club.
"President," he said, "you have laid your last snare, and your own
feet are taken in it. The day is beginning; it is your last
morning. You have just swum the Regent's Canal; it is your last
bathe in this world. Your old accomplice, Dr. Noel, so far from
betraying me, has delivered you into my hands for judgment. And
the grave you had dug for me this afternoon shall serve, in God's
almighty providence, to hide your own just doom from the curiosity
of mankind. Kneel and pray, sir, if you have a mind that way; for
your time is short, and God is weary of your iniquities."
The President made no answer either by word or sign; but continued
to hang his head and gaze sullenly on the floor, as though he were
conscious of the Prince's prolonged and unsparing regard.
"Gentlemen," continued Florizel, resuming the ordinary tone of his
conversation, "this is a fellow who has long eluded me, but whom,
thanks to Dr. Noel, I now have tightly by the heels. To tell the
story of his misdeeds would occupy more time than we can now
afford; but if the canal had contained nothing but the blood of his
victims, I believe the wretch would have been no drier than you see
him. Even in an affair of this sort I desire to preserve the forms
of honour. But I make you the judges, gentlemen - this is more an
execution than a duel and to give the rogue his choice of weapons
would be to push too far a point of etiquette. I cannot afford to
lose my life in such a business," he continued, unlocking the case
of swords; "and as a pistol-bullet travels so often on the wings of
chance, and skill and courage may fall by the most trembling
marksman, I have decided, and I feel sure you will approve my
determination, to put this question to the touch of swords."
When Brackenbury and Major O'Rooke, to whom these remarks were
particularly addressed, had each intimated his approval, "Quick,
sir," added Prince Florizel to the President, "choose a blade and
do not keep me waiting; I have an impatience to be done with you
for ever."
For the first time since he was captured and disarmed the President
raised his head, and it was plain that he began instantly to pluck
up courage.
"Is it to be stand up?" he asked eagerly, "and between you and me?"
"I mean so far to honour you," replied the Prince.
"Oh, come!" cried the President. "With a fair field, who knows how
things may happen? I must add that I consider it handsome
behaviour on your Highness's part; and if the worst comes to the
worst I shall die by one of the most gallant gentlemen in Europe."
And the President, liberated by those who had detained him, stepped
up to the table and began, with minute attention, to select a
sword. He was highly elated, and seemed to feel no doubt that he
should issue victorious from the contest. The spectators grew
alarmed in the face of so entire a confidence, and adjured Prince
Florizel to reconsider his intention.
"It is but a farce," he answered; "and I think I can promise you,
gentlemen, that it will not be long a-playing."
"Your Highness will be careful not to over-reach," said Colonel
"Geraldine," returned the Prince, "did you ever know me fail in a
debt of honour? I owe you this man's death, and you shall have
The President at last satisfied himself with one of the rapiers,
and signified his readiness by a gesture that was not devoid of a
rude nobility. The nearness of peril, and the sense of courage,
even to this obnoxious villain, lent an air of manhood and a
certain grace.
The Prince helped himself at random to a sword.
"Colonel Geraldine and Doctor Noel," he said, "will have the
goodness to await me in this room. I wish no personal friend of
mine to be involved in this transaction. Major O'Rooke, you are a
man of some years and a settled reputation - let me recommend the
President to your good graces. Lieutenant Rich will be so good as
lend me his attentions: a young man cannot have too much
experience in such affairs."
"Your Highness," replied Brackenbury, "it is an honour I shall
prize extremely."
"It is well," returned Prince Florizel; "I shall hope to stand your
friend in more important circumstances."
And so saying he led the way out of the apartment and down the
kitchen stairs.
The two men who were thus left alone threw open the window and
leaned out, straining every sense to catch an indication of the
tragical events that were about to follow. The rain was now over;
day had almost come, and the birds were piping in the shrubbery and
on the forest trees of the garden. The Prince and his companions
were visible for a moment as they followed an alley between two
flowering thickets; but at the first corner a clump of foliage
intervened, and they were again concealed from view. This was all
that the Colonel and the Physician had an opportunity to see, and
the garden was so vast, and the place of combat evidently so remote
from the house, that not even the noise of sword-play reached their
"He has taken him towards the grave," said Dr. Noel, with a
"God," cried the Colonel, "God defend the right!"
And they awaited the event in silence, the Doctor shaking with
fear, the Colonel in an agony of sweat. Many minutes must have
elapsed, the day was sensibly broader, and the birds were singing
more heartily in the garden before a sound of returning footsteps
recalled their glances towards the door. It was the Prince and the
two Indian officers who entered. God had defended the right.
"I am ashamed of my emotion," said Prince Florizel; "I feel it is a
weakness unworthy of my station, but the continued existence of
that hound of hell had begun to prey upon me like a disease, and
his death has more refreshed me than a night of slumber. Look,
Geraldine," he continued, throwing his sword upon the floor, "there
is the blood of the man who killed your brother. It should be a
welcome sight. And yet," he added, "see how strangely we men are
made! my revenge is not yet five minutes old, and already I am
beginning to ask myself if even revenge be attainable on this
precarious stage of life. The ill he did, who can undo it? The
career in which he amassed a huge fortune (for the house itself in
which we stand belonged to him) - that career is now a part of the
destiny of mankind for ever; and I might weary myself making
thrusts in carte until the crack of judgment, and Geraldine's
brother would be none the less dead, and a thousand other innocent
persons would be none the less dishonoured and debauched! The
existence of a man is so small a thing to take, so mighty a thing
to employ! Alas!" he cried, "is there anything in life so
disenchanting as attainment?"
"God's justice has been done," replied the Doctor. "So much I
behold. The lesson, your Highness, has been a cruel one for me;
and I await my own turn with deadly apprehension."
"What was I saying?" cried the Prince. "I have punished, and here
is the man beside us who can help me to undo. Ah, Dr. Noel! you
and I have before us many a day of hard and honourable toil; and
perhaps, before we have none, you may have more than redeemed your
early errors."
"And in the meantime," said the Doctor, "let me go and bury my
oldest friend."
(And this, observes the erudite Arabian, is the fortunate
conclusion of the tale. The Prince, it is superfluous to mention,
forgot none of those who served him in this great exploit; and to
this day his authority and influence help them forward in their
public career, while his condescending friendship adds a charm to
their private life. To collect, continues my author, all the
strange events in which this Prince has played the part of
Providence were to fill the habitable globe with books. But the
stories which relate to the fortunes of THE RAJAH'S DIAMOND are of
too entertaining a description, says he, to be omitted. Following
prudently in the footsteps of this Oriental, we shall now begin the
series to which he refers with the STORY OF THE BANDBOX.)
UP to the age of sixteen, at a private school and afterwards at one
of those great institutions for which England is justly famous, Mr.
Harry Hartley had received the ordinary education of a gentleman.
At that period, he manifested a remarkable distaste for study; and
his only surviving parent being both weak and ignorant, he was
permitted thenceforward to spend his time in the attainment of
petty and purely elegant accomplishments. Two years later, he was
left an orphan and almost a beggar. For all active and industrious
pursuits, Harry was unfitted alike by nature and training. He
could sing romantic ditties, and accompany himself with discretion
on the piano; he was a graceful although a timid cavalier; he had a
pronounced taste for chess; and nature had sent him into the world
with one of the most engaging exteriors that can well be fancied.
Blond and pink, with dove's eyes and a gentle smile, he had an air
of agreeable tenderness and melancholy, and the most submissive and
caressing manners. But when all is said, he was not the man to
lead armaments of war, or direct the councils of a State.
A fortunate chance and some influence obtained for Harry, at the
time of his bereavement, the position of private secretary to
Major-General Sir Thomas Vandeleur, C.B. Sir Thomas was a man of
sixty, loud-spoken, boisterous, and domineering. For some reason,
some service the nature of which had been often whispered and
repeatedly denied, the Rajah of Kashgar had presented this officer
with the sixth known diamond of the world. The gift transformed
General Vandeleur from a poor into a wealthy man, from an obscure
and unpopular soldier into one of the lions of London society; the
possessor of the Rajah's Diamond was welcome in the most exclusive
circles; and he had found a lady, young, beautiful, and well-born,
who was willing to call the diamond hers even at the price of
marriage with Sir Thomas Vandeleur. It was commonly said at the
time that, as like draws to like, one jewel had attracted another;
certainly Lady Vandeleur was not only a gem of the finest water in
her own person, but she showed herself to the world in a very
costly setting; and she was considered by many respectable
authorities, as one among the three or four best dressed women in
Harry's duty as secretary was not particularly onerous; but he had
a dislike for all prolonged work; it gave him pain to ink his
lingers; and the charms of Lady Vandeleur and her toilettes drew
him often from the library to the boudoir. He had the prettiest
ways among women, could talk fashions with enjoyment, and was never
more happy than when criticising a shade of ribbon, or running on
an errand to the milliner's. In short, Sir Thomas's correspondence
fell into pitiful arrears, and my Lady had another lady's maid.
At last the General, who was one of the least patient of military
commanders, arose from his place in a violent access of passion,
and indicated to his secretary that he had no further need for his
services, with one of those explanatory gestures which are most
rarely employed between gentlemen. The door being unfortunately
open, Mr. Hartley fell downstairs head foremost.
He arose somewhat hurt and very deeply aggrieved. The life in the
General's house precisely suited him; he moved, on a more or less
doubtful footing, in very genteel company, he did little, he ate of
the best, and he had a lukewarm satisfaction in the presence of
Lady Vandeleur, which, in his own heart, he dubbed by a more
emphatic name.
Immediately after he had been outraged by the military foot, he
hurried to the boudoir and recounted his sorrows.
"You know very well, my dear Harry," replied Lady Vandeleur, for
she called him by name like a child or a domestic servant, "that
you never by any chance do what the General tells you. No more do
I, you may say. But that is different. A woman can earn her
pardon for a good year of disobedience by a single adroit
submission; and, besides, no one is married to his private
secretary. I shall be sorry to lose you; but since you cannot stay
longer in a house where you have been insulted, I shall wish you
good-bye, and I promise you to make the General smart for his
Harry's countenance fell; tears came into his eyes, and he gazed on
Lady Vandeleur with a tender reproach.
"My Lady," said he, "what is an insult? I should think little
indeed of any one who could not forgive them by the score. But to
leave one's friends; to tear up the bonds of affection - "
He was unable to continue, for his emotion choked him, and he began
to weep.
Lady Vandeleur looked at him with a curious expression. "This
little fool," she thought, "imagines himself to be in love with me.
Why should he not become my servant instead of the General's? He
is good-natured, obliging, and understands dress; and besides it
will keep him out of mischief. He is positively too pretty to be
unattached." That night she talked over the General, who was
already somewhat ashamed of his vivacity; and Harry was transferred
to the feminine department, where his life was little short of
heavenly. He was always dressed with uncommon nicety, wore
delicate flowers in his button-hole, and could entertain a visitor
with tact and pleasantry. He took a pride in servility to a
beautiful woman; received Lady Vandeleur's commands as so many
marks of favour; and was pleased to exhibit himself before other
men, who derided and despised him, in his character of male lady'smaid
and man milliner. Nor could he think enough of his existence
from a moral point of view. Wickedness seemed to him an
essentially male attribute, and to pass one's days with a delicate
woman, and principally occupied about trimmings, was to inhabit an
enchanted isle among the storms of life.
One fine morning he came into the drawing-room and began to arrange
some music on the top of the piano. Lady Vandeleur, at the other
end of the apartment, was speaking somewhat eagerly with her
brother, Charlie Pendragon, an elderly young man, much broken with
dissipation, and very lame of one foot. The private secretary, to
whose entrance they paid no regard, could not avoid overhearing a
part of their conversation.
"To-day or never," said the lady. "Once and for all, it shall be
done to-day."
"To-day, if it must be," replied the brother, with a sigh. "But it
is a false step, a ruinous step, Clara; and we shall live to repent
it dismally."
Lady Vandeleur looked her brother steadily and somewhat strangely
in the face.
"You forget," she said; "the man must die at last."
"Upon my word, Clara," said Pendragon, "I believe you are the most
heartless rascal in England."
"You men," she returned, "are so coarsely built, that you can never
appreciate a shade of meaning. You are yourselves rapacious,
violent, immodest, careless of distinction; and yet the least
thought for the future shocks you in a woman. I have no patience
with such stuff. You would despise in a common banker the
imbecility that you expect to find in us."
"You are very likely right," replied her brother; "you were always
cleverer than I. And, anyway, you know my motto: The family
before all."
"Yes, Charlie," she returned, taking his hand in hers, "I know your
motto better than you know it yourself. 'And Clara before the
family!' Is not that the second part of it? Indeed, you are the
best of brothers, and I love you dearly."
Mr. Pendragon got up, looking a little confused by these family
"I had better not be seen," said he. "I understand my part to a
miracle, and I'll keep an eye on the Tame Cat."
"Do," she replied. "He is an abject creature, and might ruin all."
She kissed the tips of her fingers to him daintily; and the brother
withdrew by the boudoir and the back stair.
"Harry," said Lady Vandeleur, turning towards the secretary as soon
as they were alone, "I have a commission for you this morning. But
you shall take a cab; I cannot have my secretary freckled."
She spoke the last words with emphasis and a look of half-motherly
pride that caused great contentment to poor Harry; and he professed
himself charmed to find an opportunity of serving her.
"It is another of our great secrets," she went on archly, "and no
one must know of it but my secretary and me. Sir Thomas would make
the saddest disturbance; and if you only knew how weary I am of
these scenes! Oh, Harry, Harry, can you explain to me what makes
you men so violent and unjust? But, indeed, I know you cannot; you
are the only man in the world who knows nothing of these shameful
passions; you are so good, Harry, and so kind; you, at least, can
be a woman's friend; and, do you know? I think you make the others
more ugly by comparison."
"It is you," said Harry gallantly, "who are so kind to me. You
treat me like - "
"Like a mother," interposed Lady Vandeleur; "I try to be a mother
to you. Or, at least," she corrected herself with a smile, "almost
a mother. I am afraid I am too young to be your mother really.
Let us say a friend - a dear friend."
She paused long enough to let her words take effect in Harry's
sentimental quarters, but not long enough to allow him a reply.
"But all this is beside our purpose," she resumed. "You will find
a bandbox in the left-hand side of the oak wardrobe; it is
underneath the pink slip that I wore on Wednesday with my Mechlin.
You will take it immediately to this address," and she gave him a
paper, "but do not, on any account, let it out of your hands until
you have received a receipt written by myself. Do you understand?
Answer, if you please - answer! This is extremely important, and I
must ask you to pay some attention."
Harry pacified her by repeating her instructions perfectly; and she
was just going to tell him more when General Vandeleur flung into
the apartment, scarlet with anger, and holding a long and elaborate
milliner's bill in his hand.
"Will you look at this, madam?" cried he. "Will you have the
goodness to look at this document? I know well enough you married
me for my money, and I hope I can make as great allowances as any
other man in the service; but, as sure as God made me, I mean to
put a period to this disreputable prodigality."
"Mr. Hartley," said Lady Vandeleur, "I think you understand what
you have to do. May I ask you to see to it at once?"
"Stop," said the General, addressing Harry, "one word before you
go." And then, turning again to Lady Vandeleur, "What is this
precious fellow's errand?" he demanded. "I trust him no further
than I do yourself, let me tell you. If he had as much as the
rudiments of honesty, he would scorn to stay in this house; and
what he does for his wages is a mystery to all the world. What is
his errand, madam? and why are you hurrying him away?"
"I supposed you had something to say to me in private," replied the
"You spoke about an errand," insisted the General. "Do not attempt
to deceive me in my present state of temper. You certainly spoke
about an errand."
"If you insist on making your servants privy to our humiliating
dissensions," replied Lady Vandeleur, "perhaps I had better ask Mr.
Hartley to sit down. No?" she continued; "then you may go, Mr.
Hartley. I trust you may remember all that you have heard in this
room; it may be useful to you."
Harry at once made his escape from the drawing-room; and as he ran
upstairs he could hear the General's voice upraised in declamation,
and the thin tones of Lady Vandeleur planting icy repartees at
every opening. How cordially he admired the wife! How skilfully
she could evade an awkward question! with what secure effrontery
she repeated her instructions under the very guns of the enemy! and
on the other hand, how he detested the husband!
There had been nothing unfamiliar in the morning's events, for he
was continually in the habit of serving Lady Vandeleur on secret
missions, principally connected with millinery. There was a
skeleton in the house, as he well knew. The bottomless
extravagance and the unknown liabilities of the wife had long since
swallowed her own fortune, and threatened day by day to engulph
that of the husband. Once or twice in every year exposure and ruin
seemed imminent, and Harry kept trotting round to all sorts of
furnishers' shops, telling small fibs, and paying small advances on
the gross amount, until another term was tided over, and the lady
and her faithful secretary breathed again. For Harry, in a double
capacity, was heart and soul upon that side of the war: not only
did he adore Lady Vandeleur and fear and dislike her husband, but
he naturally sympathised with the love of finery, and his own
single extravagance was at the tailor's.
He found the bandbox where it had been described, arranged his
toilette with care, and left the house. The sun shone brightly;
the distance he had to travel was considerable, and he remembered
with dismay that the General's sudden irruption had prevented Lady
Vandeleur from giving him money for a cab. On this sultry day
there was every chance that his complexion would suffer severely;
and to walk through so much of London with a bandbox on his arm was
a humiliation almost insupportable to a youth of his character. He
paused, and took counsel with himself. The Vandeleurs lived in
Eaton Place; his destination was near Notting Hill; plainly, he
might cross the Park by keeping well in the open and avoiding
populous alleys; and he thanked his stars when he reflected that it
was still comparatively early in the day.
Anxious to be rid of his incubus, he walked somewhat faster than
his ordinary, and he was already some way through Kensington
Gardens when, in a solitary spot among trees, he found himself
confronted by the General.
"I beg your pardon, Sir Thomas," observed Harry, politely falling
on one side; for the other stood directly in his path.
"Where are you going, sir?" asked the General.
"I am taking a little walk among the trees," replied the lad.
The General struck the bandbox with his cane.
"With that thing?" he cried; "you lie, sir, and you know you lie!"
"Indeed, Sir Thomas," returned Harry, "I am not accustomed to be
questioned in so high a key."
"You do not understand your position," said the General. "You are
my servant, and a servant of whom I have conceived the most serious
suspicions. How do I know but that your box is full of teaspoons?"
"It contains a silk hat belonging to a friend," said Harry.
"Very well," replied General Vandeleur. "Then I want to see your
friend's silk hat. I have," he added grimly, "a singular curiosity
for hats; and I believe you know me to be somewhat positive."
"I beg your pardon, Sir Thomas, I am exceedingly grieved," Harry
apologised; "but indeed this is a private affair."
The General caught him roughly by the shoulder with one hand, while
he raised his cane in the most menacing manner with the other.
Harry gave himself up for lost; but at the same moment Heaven
vouchsafed him an unexpected defender in the person of Charlie
Pendragon, who now strode forward from behind the trees.
"Come, come, General, hold your hand," said he, "this is neither
courteous nor manly."
"Aha!" cried the General, wheeling round upon his new antagonist,
"Mr. Pendragon! And do you suppose, Mr. Pendragon, that because I
have had the misfortune to marry your sister, I shall suffer myself
to be dogged and thwarted by a discredited and bankrupt libertine
like you? My acquaintance with Lady Vandeleur, sir, has taken away
all my appetite for the other members of her family."
"And do you fancy, General Vandeleur," retorted Charlie, "that
because my sister has had the misfortune to marry you, she there
and then forfeited her rights and privileges as a lady? I own,
sir, that by that action she did as much as anybody could to
derogate from her position; but to me she is still a Pendragon. I
make it my business to protect her from ungentlemanly outrage, and
if you were ten times her husband I would not permit her liberty to
be restrained, nor her private messengers to be violently
"How is that, Mr. Hartley?" interrogated the General. "Mr.
Pendragon is of my opinion, it appears. He too suspects that Lady
Vandeleur has something to do with your friend's silk hat."
Charlie saw that he had committed an unpardonable blunder, which he
hastened to repair.
"How, sir?" he cried; "I suspect, do you say? I suspect nothing.
Only where I find strength abused and a man brutalising his
inferiors, I take the liberty to interfere."
As he said these words he made a sign to Harry, which the latter
was too dull or too much troubled to understand.
"In what way am I to construe your attitude, sir?" demanded
"Why, sir, as you please," returned Pendragon.
The General once more raised his cane, and made a cut for Charlie's
head; but the latter, lame foot and all, evaded the blow with his
umbrella, ran in, and immediately closed with his formidable
"Run, Harry, run!" he cried; "run, you dolt! Harry stood petrified
for a moment, watching the two men sway together in this fierce
embrace; then he turned and took to his heels. When he cast a
glance over his shoulder he saw the General prostrate under
Charlie's knee, but still making desperate efforts to reverse the
situation; and the Gardens seemed to have filled with people, who
were running from all directions towards the scene of fight. This
spectacle lent the secretary wings; and he did not relax his pace
until he had gained the Bayswater road, and plunged at random into
an unfrequented by-street.
To see two gentlemen of his acquaintance thus brutally mauling each
other was deeply shocking to Harry. He desired to forget the
sight; he desired, above all, to put as great a distance as
possible between himself and General Vandeleur; and in his
eagerness for this he forgot everything about his destination, and
hurried before him headlong and trembling. When he remembered that
Lady Vandeleur was the wife of one and the sister of the other of
these gladiators, his heart was touched with sympathy for a woman
so distressingly misplaced in life. Even his own situation in the
General's household looked hardly so pleasing as usual in the light
of these violent transactions.
He had walked some little distance, busied with these meditations,
before a slight collision with another passenger reminded him of
the bandbox on his arm.
"Heavens!" cried he, "where was my head? and whither have I
Thereupon he consulted the envelope which Lady Vandeleur had given
him. The address was there, but without a name. Harry was simply
directed to ask for "the gentleman who expected a parcel from Lady
Vandeleur," and if he were not at home to await his return. The
gentleman, added the note, should present a receipt in the
handwriting of the lady herself. All this seemed mightily
mysterious, and Harry was above all astonished at the omission of
the name and the formality of the receipt. He had thought little
of this last when he heard it dropped in conversation; but reading
it in cold blood, and taking it in connection with the other
strange particulars, he became convinced that he was engaged in
perilous affairs. For half a moment he had a doubt of Lady
Vandeleur herself; for he found these obscure proceedings somewhat
unworthy of so high a lady, and became more critical when her
secrets were preserved against himself. But her empire over his
spirit was too complete, he dismissed his suspicions, and blamed
himself roundly for having so much as entertained them.
In one thing, however, his duty and interest, his generosity and
his terrors, coincided - to get rid of the bandbox with the
greatest possible despatch.
He accosted the first policeman and courteously inquired his way.
It turned out that he was already not far from his destination, and
a walk of a few minutes brought him to a small house in a lane,
freshly painted, and kept with the most scrupulous attention. The
knocker and bell-pull were highly polished; flowering pot-herbs
garnished the sills of the different windows; and curtains of some
rich material concealed the interior from the eyes of curious
passengers. The place had an air of repose and secrecy; and Harry
was so far caught with this spirit that he knocked with more than
usual discretion, and was more than usually careful to remove all
impurity from his boots.
A servant-maid of some personal attractions immediately opened the
door, and seemed to regard the secretary with no unkind eyes.
"This is the parcel from Lady Vandeleur," said Harry.
"I know," replied the maid, with a nod. "But the gentleman is from
home. Will you leave it with me?"
"I cannot," answered Harry. "I am directed not to part with it but
upon a certain condition, and I must ask you, I am afraid, to let
me wait."
"Well," said she, "I suppose I may let you wait. I am lonely
enough, I can tell you, and you do not look as though you would eat
a girl. But be sure and do not ask the gentleman's name, for that
I am not to tell you."
"Do you say so?" cried Harry. "Why, how strange! But indeed for
some time back I walk among surprises. One question I think I may
surely ask without indiscretion: Is he the master of this house?"
"He is a lodger, and not eight days old at that," returned the
maid. "And now a question for a question: Do you know lady
"I am her private secretary," replied Harry with a glow of modest
"She is pretty, is she not?" pursued the servant.
"Oh, beautiful!" cried Harry; "wonderfully lovely, and not less
good and kind!"
"You look kind enough yourself," she retorted; "and I wager you are
worth a dozen Lady Vandeleurs."
Harry was properly scandalised.
"I!" he cried. "I am only a secretary!"
"Do you mean that for me?" said the girl. "Because I am only a
housemaid, if you please." And then, relenting at the sight of
Harry's obvious confusion, "I know you mean nothing of the sort,"
she added; "and I like your looks; but I think nothing of your Lady
Vandeleur. Oh, these mistresses!" she cried. "To send out a real
gentleman like you - with a bandbox - in broad day!"
During this talk they had remained in their original positions -
she on the doorstep, he on the side-walk, bareheaded for the sake
of coolness, and with the bandbox on his arm. But upon this last
speech Harry, who was unable to support such point-blank
compliments to his appearance, nor the encouraging look with which
they were accompanied, began to change his attitude, and glance
from left to right in perturbation. In so doing he turned his face
towards the lower end of the lane, and there, to his indescribable
dismay, his eyes encountered those of General Vandeleur. The
General, in a prodigious fluster of heat, hurry, and indignation,
had been scouring the streets in chase of his brother-in-law; but
so soon as he caught a glimpse of the delinquent secretary, his
purpose changed, his anger flowed into a new channel, and he turned
on his heel and came tearing up the lane with truculent gestures
and vociferations.
Harry made but one bolt of it into the house, driving the maid
before him; and the door was slammed in his pursuer's countenance.
"Is there a bar? Will it lock?" asked Harry, while a salvo on the
knocker made the house echo from wall to wall.
"Why, what is wrong with you?" asked the maid. "Is it this old
"If he gets hold of me," whispered Harry, "I am as good as dead.
He has been pursuing me all day, carries a sword-stick, and is an
Indian military officer."
"These are fine manners," cried the maid. "And what, if you
please, may be his name?"
"It is the General, my master," answered Harry. "He is after this
"Did not I tell you?" cried the maid in triumph. "I told you I
thought worse than nothing of your Lady Vandeleur; and if you had
an eye in your head you might see what she is for yourself. An
ungrateful minx, I will be bound for that!"
The General renewed his attack upon the knocker, and his passion
growing with delay, began to kick and beat upon the panels of the
"It is lucky," observed the girl, "that I am alone in the house;
your General may hammer until he is weary, and there is none to
open for him. Follow me!"
So saying she led Harry into the kitchen, where she made him sit
down, and stood by him herself in an affectionate attitude, with a
hand upon his shoulder. The din at the door, so far from abating,
continued to increase in volume, and at each blow the unhappy
secretary was shaken to the heart.
"What is your name?" asked the girl.
"Harry Hartley," he replied.
"Mine," she went on, "is Prudence. Do you like it?"
"Very much," said Harry. "But hear for a moment how the General
beats upon the door. He will certainly break it in, and then, in
heaven's name, what have I to look for but death?"
"You put yourself very much about with no occasion," answered
Prudence. "Let your General knock, he will do no more than blister
his hands. Do you think I would keep you here if I were not sure
to save you? Oh, no, I am a good friend to those that please me!
and we have a back door upon another lane. But," she added,
checking him, for he had got upon his feet immediately on this
welcome news, "but I will not show where it is unless you kiss me.
Will you, Harry?"
"That I will," he cried, remembering his gallantry, "not for your
back door, but because you are good and pretty."
And he administered two or three cordial salutes, which were
returned to him in kind.
Then Prudence led him to the back gate, and put her hand upon the
"Will you come and see me?" she asked.
"I will indeed," said Harry. "Do not I owe you my life?"
"And now," she added, opening the door, "run as hard as you can,
for I shall let in the General."
Harry scarcely required this advice; fear had him by the forelock;
and he addressed himself diligently to flight. A few steps, and he
believed he would escape from his trials, and return to Lady
Vandeleur in honour and safety. But these few steps had not been
taken before he heard a man's voice hailing him by name with many
execrations, and, looking over his shoulder, he beheld Charlie
Pendragon waving him with both arms to return. The shock of this
new incident was so sudden and profound, and Harry was already
worked into so high a state of nervous tension, that he could think
of nothing better than to accelerate his pace, and continue
running. He should certainly have remembered the scene in
Kensington Gardens; he should certainly have concluded that, where
the General was his enemy, Charlie Pendragon could be no other than
a friend. But such was the fever and perturbation of his mind that
he was struck by none of these considerations, and only continued
to run the faster up the lane.
Charlie, by the sound of his voice and the vile terms that he
hurled after the secretary, was obviously beside himself with rage.
He, too, ran his very best; but, try as he might, the physical
advantages were not upon his side, and his outcries and the fall of
his lame foot on the macadam began to fall farther and farther into
the wake.
Harry's hopes began once more to arise. The lane was both steep
and narrow, but it was exceedingly solitary, bordered on either
hand by garden walls, overhung with foliage; and, for as far as the
fugitive could see in front of him, there was neither a creature
moving nor an open door. Providence, weary of persecution, was now
offering him an open field for his escape.
Alas! as he came abreast of a garden door under a tuft of
chestnuts, it was suddenly drawn back, and he could see inside,
upon a garden path, the figure of a butcher's boy with his tray
upon his arm. He had hardly recognised the fact before he was some
steps beyond upon the other side. But the fellow had had time to
observe him; he was evidently much surprised to see a gentleman go
by at so unusual a pace; and he came out into the lane and began to
call after Harry with shouts of ironical encouragement.
His appearance gave a new idea to Charlie Pendragon, who, although
he was now sadly out of breath, once more upraised his voice.
"Stop, thief!" he cried.
And immediately the butcher's boy had taken up the cry and joined
in the pursuit.
This was a bitter moment for the hunted secretary. It is true that
his terror enabled him once more to improve his pace, and gain with
every step on his pursuers; but he was well aware that he was near
the end of his resources, and should he meet any one coming the
other way, his predicament in the narrow lane would be desperate
"I must find a place of concealment," he thought, "and that within
the next few seconds, or all is over with me in this world."
Scarcely had the thought crossed his mind than the lane took a
sudden turning; and he found himself hidden from his enemies.
There are circumstances in which even the least energetic of
mankind learn to behave with vigour and decision; and the most
cautious forget their prudence and embrace foolhardy resolutions.
This was one of those occasions for Harry Hartley; and those who
knew him best would have been the most astonished at the lad's
audacity. He stopped dead, flung the bandbox over a garden wall,
and leaping upward with incredible agility and seizing the
copestone with his hands, he tumbled headlong after it into the
He came to himself a moment afterwards, seated in a border of small
rosebushes. His hands and knees were cut and bleeding, for the
wall had been protected against such an escalade by a liberal
provision of old bottles; and he was conscious of a general
dislocation and a painful swimming in the head. Facing him across
the garden, which was in admirable order, and set with flowers of
the most delicious perfume, he beheld the back of a house. It was
of considerable extent, and plainly habitable; but, in odd contrast
to the grounds, it was crazy, ill-kept, and of a mean appearance.
On all other sides the circuit of the garden wall appeared
He took in these features of the scene with mechanical glances, but
his mind was still unable to piece together or draw a rational
conclusion from what he saw. And when he heard footsteps advancing
on the gravel, although he turned his eyes in that direction, it
was with no thought either for defence or flight.
The new-comer was a large, coarse, and very sordid personage, in
gardening clothes, and with a watering-pot in his left hand. One
less confused would have been affected with some alarm at the sight
of this man's huge proportions and black and lowering eyes. But
Harry was too gravely shaken by his fall to be so much as
terrified; and if he was unable to divert his glances from the
gardener, he remained absolutely passive, and suffered him to draw
near, to take him by the shoulder, and to plant him roughly on his
feet, without a motion of resistance.
For a moment the two stared into each other's eyes, Harry
fascinated, the man filled with wrath and a cruel, sneering humour.
"Who are you?" he demanded at last. "Who are you to come flying
over my wall and break my GLOIRE DE DIJONS! What is your name?" he
added, shaking him; "and what may be your business here?"
Harry could not as much as proffer a word in explanation.
But just at that moment Pendragon and the butcher's boy went
clumping past, and the sound of their feet and their hoarse cries
echoed loudly in the narrow lane. The gardener had received his
answer; and he looked down into Harry's face with an obnoxious
"A thief!" he said. "Upon my word, and a very good thing you must
make of it; for I see you dressed like a gentleman from top to toe.
Are you not ashamed to go about the world in such a trim, with
honest folk, I dare say, glad to buy your cast-off finery second
hand? Speak up, you dog," the man went on; "you can understand
English, I suppose; and I mean to have a bit of talk with you
before I march you to the station."
"Indeed, sir," said Harry, "this is all a dreadful misconception;
and if you will go with me to Sir Thomas Vandeleur's in Eaton
Place, I can promise that all will be made plain. The most upright
person, as I now perceive, can be led into suspicious positions."
"My little man," replied the gardener, "I will go with you no
farther than the station-house in the next street. The inspector,
no doubt, will be glad to take a stroll with you as far as Eaton
Place, and have a bit of afternoon tea with your great
acquaintances. Or would you prefer to go direct to the Home
Secretary? Sir Thomas Vandeleur, indeed! Perhaps you think I
don't know a gentleman when I see one, from a common run-the-hedge
like you? Clothes or no clothes, I can read you like a book. Here
is a shirt that maybe cost as much as my Sunday hat; and that coat,
I take it, has never seen the inside of Rag-fair, and then your
boots - "
The man, whose eyes had fallen upon the ground, stopped short in
his insulting commentary, and remained for a moment looking
intently upon something at his feet. When he spoke his voice was
strangely altered.
"What, in God's name," said he, "is all this?"
Harry, following the direction of the man's eyes, beheld a
spectacle that struck him dumb with terror and amazement. In his
fall he had descended vertically upon the bandbox and burst it open
from end to end; thence a great treasure of diamonds had poured
forth, and now lay abroad, part trodden in the soil, part scattered
on the surface in regal and glittering profusion. There was a
magnificent coronet which he had often admired on Lady Vandeleur;
there were rings and brooches, ear-drops and bracelets, and even
unset brilliants rolling here and there among the rosebushes like
drops of morning dew. A princely fortune lay between the two men
upon the ground - a fortune in the most inviting, solid, and
durable form, capable of being carried in an apron, beautiful in
itself, and scattering the sunlight in a million rainbow flashes.
"Good God!" said Harry, "I am lost!"
His mind raced backwards into the past with the incalculable
velocity of thought, and he began to comprehend his day's
adventures, to conceive them as a whole, and to recognise the sad
imbroglio in which his own character and fortunes had become
involved. He looked round him as if for help, but he was alone in
the garden, with his scattered diamonds and his redoubtable
interlocutor; and when he gave ear, there was no sound but the
rustle of the leaves and the hurried pulsation of his heart. It
was little wonder if the young man felt himself deserted by his
spirits, and with a broken voice repeated his last ejaculation - "I
am lost!"
The gardener peered in all directions with an air of guilt; but
there was no face at any of the windows, and he seemed to breathe
"Pick up a heart," he said, "you fool! The worst of it is done.
Why could you not say at first there was enough for two? Two?" he
repeated, "aye, and for two hundred! But come away from here,
where we may be observed; and, for the love of wisdom, straighten
out your hat and brush your clothes. You could not travel two
steps the figure of fun you look just now."
While Harry mechanically adopted these suggestions, the gardener,
getting upon his knees, hastily drew together the scattered jewels
and returned them to the bandbox. The touch of these costly
crystals sent a shiver of emotion through the man's stalwart frame;
his face was transfigured, and his eyes shone with concupiscence;
indeed it seemed as if he luxuriously prolonged his occupation, and
dallied with every diamond that he handled. At last, however, it
was done; and, concealing the bandbox in his smock, the gardener
beckoned to Harry and preceded him in the direction of the house.
Near the door they were met by a young man evidently in holy
orders, dark and strikingly handsome, with a look of mingled
weakness and resolution, and very neatly attired after the manner
of his caste. The gardener was plainly annoyed by this encounter;
but he put as good a face upon it as he could, and accosted the
clergyman with an obsequious and smiling air.
"Here is a fine afternoon, Mr. Rolles," said he: "a fine
afternoon, as sure as God made it! And here is a young friend of
mine who had a fancy to look at my roses. I took the liberty to
bring him in, for I thought none of the lodgers would object."
"Speaking for myself," replied the Reverend Mr. Rolles, "I do not;
nor do I fancy any of the rest of us would be more difficult upon
so small a matter. The garden is your own, Mr. Raeburn; we must
none of us forget that; and because you give us liberty to walk
there we should be indeed ungracious if we so far presumed upon
your politeness as to interfere with the convenience of your
friends. But, on second thoughts," he added, "I believe that this
gentleman and I have met before. Mr. Hartley, I think. I regret
to observe that you have had a fall."
And he offered his hand.
A sort of maiden dignity and a desire to delay as long as possible
the necessity for explanation moved Harry to refuse this chance of
help, and to deny his own identity. He chose the tender mercies of
the gardener, who was at least unknown to him, rather than the
curiosity and perhaps the doubts of an acquaintance.
"I fear there is some mistake," said he. "My name is Thomlinson
and I am a friend of Mr. Raeburn's."
"Indeed?" said Mr. Rolles. "The likeness is amazing."
Mr. Raeburn, who had been upon thorns throughout this colloquy, now
felt it high time to bring it to a period.
"I wish you a pleasant saunter, sir," said he.
And with that he dragged Harry after him into the house, and then
into a chamber on the garden. His first care was to draw down the
blind, for Mr. Rolles still remained where they had left him, in an
attitude of perplexity and thought. Then he emptied the broken
bandbox on the table, and stood before the treasure, thus fully
displayed, with an expression of rapturous greed, and rubbing his
hands upon his thighs. For Harry, the sight of the man's face
under the influence of this base emotion, added another pang to
those he was already suffering. It seemed incredible that, from
his life of pure and delicate trifling, he should be plunged in a
breath among sordid and criminal relations. He could reproach his
conscience with no sinful act; and yet he was now suffering the
punishment of sin in its most acute and cruel forms - the dread of
punishment, the suspicions of the good, and the companionship and
contamination of vile and brutal natures. He felt he could lay his
life down with gladness to escape from the room and the society of
Mr. Raeburn.
"And now," said the latter, after he had separated the jewels into
two nearly equal parts, and drawn one of them nearer to himself;
"and now," said he, "everything in this world has to be paid for,
and some things sweetly. You must know, Mr. Hartley, if such be
your name, that I am a man of a very easy temper, and good nature
has been my stumbling-block from first to last. I could pocket the
whole of these pretty pebbles, if I chose, and I should like to see
you dare to say a word; but I think I must have taken a liking to
you; for I declare I have not the heart to shave you so close. So,
do you see, in pure kind feeling, I propose that we divide; and
these," indicating the two heaps, "are the proportions that seem to
me just and friendly. Do you see any objection, Mr. Hartley, may I
ask? I am not the man to stick upon a brooch."
"But, sir," cried Harry, "what you propose to me is impossible.
The jewels are not mine, and I cannot share what is another's, no
matter with whom, nor in what proportions."
"They are not yours, are they not?" returned Raeburn. "And you
could not share them with anybody, couldn't you? Well now, that is
what I call a pity; for here am I obliged to take you to the
station. The police - think of that," he continued; "think of the
disgrace for your respectable parents; think," he went on, taking
Harry by the wrist; "think of the Colonies and the Day of
"I cannot help it," wailed Harry. "It is not my fault. You will
not come with me to Eaton Place?"
"No," replied the man, "I will not, that is certain. And I mean to
divide these playthings with you here."
And so saying he applied a sudden and severe torsion to the lad's
Harry could not suppress a scream, and the perspiration burst forth
upon his face. Perhaps pain and terror quickened his intelligence,
but certainly at that moment the whole business flashed across him
in another light; and he saw that there was nothing for it but to
accede to the ruffian's proposal, and trust to find the house and
force him to disgorge, under more favourable circumstances, and
when he himself was clear from all suspicion.
"I agree," he said.
"There is a lamb," sneered the gardener. "I thought you would
recognise your interests at last. This bandbox," he continued, "I
shall burn with my rubbish; it is a thing that curious folk might
recognise; and as for you, scrape up your gaieties and put them in
your pocket."
Harry proceeded to obey, Raeburn watching him, and every now and
again his greed rekindled by some bright scintillation, abstracting
another jewel from the secretary's share, and adding it to his own.
When this was finished, both proceeded to the front door, which
Raeburn cautiously opened to observe the street. This was
apparently clear of passengers; for he suddenly seized Harry by the
nape of the neck, and holding his face downward so that he could
see nothing but the roadway and the doorsteps of the houses, pushed
him violently before him down one street and up another for the
space of perhaps a minute and a half. Harry had counted three
corners before the bully relaxed his grasp, and crying, "Now be off
with you!" sent the lad flying head foremost with a well-directed
and athletic kick.
When Harry gathered himself up, half-stunned and bleeding freely at
the nose, Mr. Raeburn had entirely disappeared. For the first
time, anger and pain so completely overcame the lad's spirits that
he burst into a fit of tears and remained sobbing in the middle of
the road.
After he had thus somewhat assuaged his emotion, he began to look
about him and read the names of the streets at whose intersection
he had been deserted by the gardener. He was still in an
unfrequented portion of West London, among villas and large
gardens; but he could see some persons at a window who had
evidently witnessed his misfortune; and almost immediately after a
servant came running from the house and offered him a glass of
water. At the same time, a dirty rogue, who had been slouching
somewhere in the neighbourhood, drew near him from the other side.
"Poor fellow," said the maid, "how vilely you have been handled, to
be sure! Why, your knees are all cut, and your clothes ruined! Do
you know the wretch who used you so?"
"That I do!" cried Harry, who was somewhat refreshed by the water;
"and shall run him home in spite of his precautions. He shall pay
dearly for this day's work, I promise you."
"You had better come into the house and have yourself washed and
brushed," continued the maid. "My mistress will make you welcome,
never fear. And see, I will pick up your hat. Why, love of
mercy!" she screamed, "if you have not dropped diamonds all over
the street!"
Such was the case; a good half of what remained to him after the
depredations of Mr. Raeburn, had been shaken out of his pockets by
the summersault and once more lay glittering on the ground. He
blessed his fortune that the maid had been so quick of eye; "there
is nothing so bad but it might be worse," thought he; and the
recovery of these few seemed to him almost as great an affair as
the loss of all the rest. But, alas! as he stooped to pick up his
treasures, the loiterer made a rapid onslaught, overset both Harry
and the maid with a movement of his arms, swept up a double handful
of the diamonds, and made off along the street with an amazing
Harry, as soon as he could get upon his feet, gave chase to the
miscreant with many cries, but the latter was too fleet of foot,
and probably too well acquainted with the locality; for turn where
the pursuer would he could find no traces of the fugitive.
In the deepest despondency, Harry revisited the scene of his
mishap, where the maid, who was still waiting, very honestly
returned him his hat and the remainder of the fallen diamonds.
Harry thanked her from his heart, and being now in no humour for
economy, made his way to the nearest cab-stand and set off for
Eaton Place by coach.
The house, on his arrival, seemed in some confusion, as if a
catastrophe had happened in the family; and the servants clustered
together in the hall, and were unable, or perhaps not altogether
anxious, to suppress their merriment at the tatterdemalion figure
of the secretary. He passed them with as good an air of dignity as
he could assume, and made directly for the boudoir. When he opened
the door an astonishing and even menacing spectacle presented
itself to his eyes; for he beheld the General and his wife and, of
all people, Charlie Pendragon, closeted together and speaking with
earnestness and gravity on some important subject. Harry saw at
once that there was little left for him to explain - plenary
confession had plainly been made to the General of the intended
fraud upon his pocket, and the unfortunate miscarriage of the
scheme; and they had all made common cause against a common danger.
"Thank Heaven!" cried Lady Vandeleur, "here he is! The bandbox,
Harry - the bandbox!"
But Harry stood before them silent and downcast.
"Speak!" she cried. "Speak! Where is the bandbox?"
And the men, with threatening gestures, repeated the demand.
Harry drew a handful of jewels from his pocket. He was very white.
"This is all that remains," said he. "I declare before Heaven it
was through no fault of mine; and if you will have patience,
although some are lost, I am afraid, for ever, others, I am sure,
may be still recovered."
"Alas!" cried Lady Vandeleur, "all our diamonds are gone, and I owe
ninety thousand pounds for dress!"
"Madam," said the General, "you might have paved the gutter with
your own trash; you might have made debts to fifty times the sum
you mention; you might have robbed me of my mother's coronet and
ring; and Nature might have still so far prevailed that I could
have forgiven you at last. But, madam, you have taken the Rajah's
Diamond - the Eye of Light, as the Orientals poetically termed it -
the Pride of Kashgar! You have taken from me the Rajah's Diamond,"
he cried, raising his hands, "and all, madam, all is at an end
between us!"
"Believe me, General Vandeleur," she replied, "that is one of the
most agreeable speeches that ever I heard from your lips; and since
we are to be ruined, I could almost welcome the change, if it
delivers me from you. You have told me often enough that I married
you for your money; let me tell you now that I always bitterly
repented the bargain; and if you were still marriageable, and had a
diamond bigger than your head, I should counsel even my maid
against a union so uninviting and disastrous. As for you, Mr.
Hartley," she continued, turning on the secretary, "you have
sufficiently exhibited your valuable qualities in this house; we
are now persuaded that you equally lack manhood, sense, and selfrespect;
and I can see only one course open for you - to withdraw
instanter, and, if possible, return no more. For your wages you
may rank as a creditor in my late husband's bankruptcy."
Harry had scarcely comprehended this insulting address before the
General was down upon him with another.
"And in the meantime," said that personage, "follow me before the
nearest Inspector of Police. You may impose upon a simple-minded
soldier, sir, but the eye of the law will read your disreputable
secret. If I must spend my old age in poverty through your
underhand intriguing with my wife, I mean at least that you shall
not remain unpunished for your pains; and God, sir, will deny me a
very considerable satisfaction if you do not pick oakum from now
until your dying day."
With that, the General dragged Harry from the apartment, and
hurried him downstairs and along the street to the police-station
of the district.
Here (says my Arabian author) ended this deplorable business of the
bandbox. But to the unfortunate Secretary the whole affair was the
beginning of a new and manlier life. The police were easily
persuaded of his innocence; and, after he had given what help he
could in the subsequent investigations, he was even complemented by
one of the chiefs of the detective department on the probity and
simplicity of his behaviour. Several persons interested themselves
in one so unfortunate; and soon after he inherited a sum of money
from a maiden aunt in Worcestershire. With this he married
Prudence, and set sail for Bendigo, or according to another
account, for Trincomalee, exceedingly content, and will the best of
The Reverend Mr. Simon Rolles had distinguished himself in the
Moral Sciences, and was more than usually proficient in the study
of Divinity. His essay "On the Christian Doctrine of the Social
Obligations" obtained for him, at the moment of its production, a
certain celebrity in the University of Oxford; and it was
understood in clerical and learned circles that young Mr. Rolles
had in contemplation a considerable work - a folio, it was said -
on the authority of the Fathers of the Church. These attainments,
these ambitious designs, however, were far from helping him to any
preferment; and he was still in quest of his first curacy when a
chance ramble in that part of London, the peaceful and rich aspect
of the garden, a desire for solitude and study, and the cheapness
of the lodging, led him to take up his abode with Mr. Raeburn, the
nurseryman of Stockdove Lane.
It was his habit every afternoon, after he had worked seven or
eight hours on St. Ambrose or St. Chrysostom, to walk for a while
in meditation among the roses. And this was usually one of the
most productive moments of his day. But even a sincere appetite
for thought, and the excitement of grave problems awaiting
solution, are not always sufficient to preserve the mind of the
philosopher against the petty shocks and contacts of the world.
And when Mr. Rolles found General Vandeleur's secretary, ragged and
bleeding, in the company of his landlord; when he saw both change
colour and seek to avoid his questions; and, above all, when the
former denied his own identity with the most unmoved assurance, he
speedily forgot the Saints and Fathers in the vulgar interest of
"I cannot be mistaken," thought he. "That is Mr. Hartley beyond a
doubt. How comes he in such a pickle? why does he deny his name?
and what can be his business with that black-looking ruffian, my
As he was thus reflecting, another peculiar circumstance attracted
his attention. The face of Mr. Raeburn appeared at a low window
next the door; and, as chance directed, his eyes met those of Mr.
Rolles. The nurseryman seemed disconcerted, and even alarmed; and
immediately after the blind of the apartment was pulled sharply
"This may all be very well," reflected Mr. Rolles; "it may be all
excellently well; but I confess freely that I do not think so.
Suspicious, underhand, untruthful, fearful of observation - I
believe upon my soul," he thought, "the pair are plotting some
disgraceful action."
The detective that there is in all of us awoke and became clamant
in the bosom of Mr. Rolles; and with a brisk, eager step, that bore
no resemblance to his usual gait, he proceeded to make the circuit
of the garden. When he came to the scene of Harry's escalade, his
eye was at once arrested by a broken rosebush and marks of
trampling on the mould. He looked up, and saw scratches on the
brick, and a rag of trouser floating from a broken bottle. This,
then, was the mode of entrance chosen by Mr. Raeburn's particular
friend! It was thus that General Vandeleur's secretary came to
admire a flower-garden! The young clergyman whistled softly to
himself as he stooped to examine the ground. He could make out
where Harry had landed from his perilous leap; he recognised the
flat foot of Mr. Raeburn where it had sunk deeply in the soil as he
pulled up the Secretary by the collar; nay, on a closer inspection,
he seemed to distinguish the marks of groping fingers, as though
something had been spilt abroad and eagerly collected.
"Upon my word," he thought, "the thing grows vastly interesting."
And just then he caught sight of something almost entirely buried
in the earth. In an instant he had disinterred a dainty morocco
case, ornamented and clasped in gilt. It had been trodden heavily
underfoot, and thus escaped the hurried search of Mr. Raeburn. Mr.
Rolles opened the case, and drew a long breath of almost horrified
astonishment; for there lay before him, in a cradle of green
velvet, a diamond of prodigious magnitude and of the finest water.
It was of the bigness of a duck's egg; beautifully shaped, and
without a flaw; and as the sun shone upon it, it gave forth a
lustre like that of electricity, and seemed to burn in his hand
with a thousand internal fires.
He knew little of precious stones; but the Rajah's Diamond was a
wonder that explained itself; a village child, if he found it,
would run screaming for the nearest cottage; and a savage would
prostrate himself in adoration before so imposing a fetish. The
beauty of the stone flattered the young clergyman's eyes; the
thought of its incalculable value overpowered his intellect. He
knew that what he held in his hand was worth more than many years'
purchase of an archiepiscopal see; that it would build cathedrals
more stately than Ely or Cologne; that he who possessed it was set
free for ever from the primal curse, and might follow his own
inclinations without concern or hurry, without let or hindrance.
And as he suddenly turned it, the rays leaped forth again with
renewed brilliancy, and seemed to pierce his very heart.
Decisive actions are often taken in a moment and without any
conscious deliverance from the rational parts of man. So it was
now with Mr. Rolles. He glanced hurriedly round; beheld, like Mr.
Raeburn before him, nothing but the sunlit flower-garden, the tall
tree-tops, and the house with blinded windows; and in a trice he
had shut the case, thrust it into his pocket, and was hastening to
his study with the speed of guilt.
The Reverend Simon Rolles had stolen the Rajah's Diamond.
Early in the afternoon the police arrived with Harry Hartley. The
nurseryman, who was beside himself with terror, readily discovered
his hoard; and the jewels were identified and inventoried in the
presence of the Secretary. As for Mr. Rolles, he showed himself in
a most obliging temper, communicated what he knew with freedom, and
professed regret that he could do no more to help the officers in
their duty.
"Still," he added, "I suppose your business is nearly at an end."
"By no means," replied the man from Scotland Yard; and he narrated
the second robbery of which Harry had been the immediate victim,
and gave the young clergyman a description of the more important
jewels that were still not found, dilating particularly on the
Rajah's Diamond.
"It must be worth a fortune," observed Mr. Rolles.
"Ten fortunes - twenty fortunes," cried the officer.
"The more it is worth," remarked Simon shrewdly, "the more
difficult it must be to sell. Such a thing has a physiognomy not
to be disguised, and I should fancy a man might as easily negotiate
St. Paul's Cathedral."
"Oh, truly!" said the officer; "but if the thief be a man of any
intelligence, he will cut it into three or four, and there will be
still enough to make him rich."
"Thank you," said the clergyman. "You cannot imagine how much your
conversation interests me."
Whereupon the functionary admitted that they knew many strange
things in his profession, and immediately after took his leave.
Mr. Rolles regained his apartment. It seemed smaller and barer
than usual; the materials for his great work had never presented so
little interest; and he looked upon his library with the eye of
scorn. He took down, volume by volume, several Fathers of the
Church, and glanced them through; but they contained nothing to his
"These old gentlemen," thought he, "are no doubt very valuable
writers, but they seem to me conspicuously ignorant of life. Here
am I, with learning enough to be a Bishop, and I positively do not
know how to dispose of a stolen diamond. I glean a hint from a
common policeman, and, with all my folios, I cannot so much as put
it into execution. This inspires me with very low ideas of
University training."
Herewith he kicked over his book-shelf and, putting on his hat,
hastened from the house to the club of which he was a member. In
such a place of mundane resort he hoped to find some man of good
counsel and a shrewd experience in life. In the reading-room he
saw many of the country clergy and an Archdeacon; there were three
journalists and a writer upon the Higher Metaphysic, playing pool;
and at dinner only the raff of ordinary club frequenters showed
their commonplace and obliterated countenances. None of these,
thought Mr. Rolles, would know more on dangerous topics than he
knew himself; none of them were fit to give him guidance in his
present strait. At length in the smoking-room, up many weary
stairs, he hit upon a gentleman of somewhat portly build and
dressed with conspicuous plainness. He was smoking a cigar and
reading the FORTNIGHTLY REVIEW; his face was singularly free from
all sign of preoccupation or fatigue; and there was something in
his air which seemed to invite confidence and to expect submission.
The more the young clergyman scrutinised his features, the more he
was convinced that he had fallen on one capable of giving pertinent
"Sir," said he, "you will excuse my abruptness; but I judge you
from your appearance to be pre-eminently a man of the world."
"I have indeed considerable claims to that distinction," replied
the stranger, laying aside his magazine with a look of mingled
amusement and surprise.
"I, sir," continued the Curate, "am a recluse, a student, a
creature of ink-bottles and patristic folios. A recent event has
brought my folly vividly before my eyes, and I desire to instruct
myself in life. By life," he added, "I do not mean Thackeray's
novels; but the crimes and secret possibilities of our society, and
the principles of wise conduct among exceptional events. I am a
patient reader; can the thing be learnt in books?"
"You put me in a difficulty," said the stranger. "I confess I have
no great notion of the use of books, except to amuse a railway
journey; although, I believe, there are some very exact treatises
on astronomy, the use of the globes, agriculture, and the art of
making paper flowers. Upon the less apparent provinces of life I
fear you will find nothing truthful. Yet stay," he added, "have
you read Gaboriau?"
Mr. Rolles admitted he had never even heard the name.
"You may gather some notions from Gaboriau," resumed the stranger.
"He is at least suggestive; and as he is an author much studied by
Prince Bismarck, you will, at the worst, lose your time in good
"Sir," said the Curate, "I am infinitely obliged by your
"You have already more than repaid me," returned the other.
"How?" inquired Simon.
"By the novelty of your request," replied the gentleman; and with a
polite gesture, as though to ask permission, he resumed the study
On his way home Mr. Rolles purchased a work on precious stones and
several of Gaboriau's novels. These last he eagerly skimmed until
an advanced hour in the morning; but although they introduced him
to many new ideas, he could nowhere discover what to do with a
stolen diamond. He was annoyed, moreover, to find the information
scattered amongst romantic story-telling, instead of soberly set
forth after the manner of a manual; and he concluded that, even if
the writer had thought much upon these subjects, he was totally
lacking in educational method. For the character and attainments
of Lecoq, however, he was unable to contain his admiration.
"He was truly a great creature," ruminated Mr. Rolles. "He knew
the world as I know Paley's Evidences. There was nothing that he
could not carry to a termination with his own hand, and against the
largest odds. Heavens!" he broke out suddenly, "is not this the
lesson? Must I not learn to cut diamonds for myself?"
It seemed to him as if he had sailed at once out of his
perplexities; he remembered that he knew a jeweller, one B.
Macculloch, in Edinburgh, who would be glad to put him in the way
of the necessary training; a few months, perhaps a few years, of
sordid toil, and he would be sufficiently expert to divide and
sufficiently cunning to dispose with advantage of the Rajah's
Diamond. That done, he might return to pursue his researches at
leisure, a wealthy and luxurious student, envied and respected by
all. Golden visions attended him through his slumber, and he awoke
refreshed and light-hearted with the morning sun.
Mr. Raeburn's house was on that day to be closed by the police, and
this afforded a pretext for his departure. He cheerfully prepared
his baggage, transported it to King's Cross, where he left it in
the cloak-room, and returned to the club to while away the
afternoon and dine.
"If you dine here to-day, Rolles," observed an acquaintance, "you
may see two of the most remarkable men in England - Prince Florizel
of Bohemia, and old Jack Vandeleur."
"I have heard of the Prince," replied Mr. Rolles; "and General
Vandeleur I have even met in society."
"General Vandeleur is an ass!" returned the other. "This is his
brother John, the biggest adventurer, the best judge of precious
stones, and one of the most acute diplomatists in Europe. Have you
never heard of his duel with the Duc de Val d'Orge? of his exploits
and atrocities when he was Dictator of Paraguay? of his dexterity
in recovering Sir Samuel Levi's jewellery? nor of his services in
the Indian Mutiny - services by which the Government profited, but
which the Government dared not recognise? You make me wonder what
we mean by fame, or even by infamy; for Jack Vandeleur has
prodigious claims to both. Run downstairs," he continued, "take a
table near them, and keep your ears open. You will hear some
strange talk, or I am much misled."
"But how shall I know them?" inquired the clergyman.
"Know them!" cried his friend; "why, the Prince is the finest
gentleman in Europe, the only living creature who looks like a
king; and as for Jack Vandeleur, if you can imagine Ulysses at
seventy years of age, and with a sabre-cut across his face, you
have the man before you! Know them, indeed! Why, you could pick
either of them out of a Derby day!"
Rolles eagerly hurried to the dining-room. It was as his friend
had asserted; it was impossible to mistake the pair in question.
Old John Vandeleur was of a remarkable force of body, and obviously
broken to the most difficult exercises. He had neither the
carriage of a swordsman, nor of a sailor, nor yet of one much
inured to the saddle; but something made up of all these, and the
result and expression of many different habits and dexterities.
His features were bold and aquiline; his expression arrogant and
predatory; his whole appearance that of a swift, violent,
unscrupulous man of action; and his copious white hair and the deep
sabre-cut that traversed his nose and temple added a note of
savagery to a head already remarkable and menacing in itself.
In his companion, the Prince of Bohemia, Mr. Rolles was astonished
to recognise the gentleman who had recommended him the study of
Gaboriau. Doubtless Prince Florizel, who rarely visited the club,
of which, as of most others, he was an honorary member, had been
waiting for John Vandeleur when Simon accosted him on the previous
The other diners had modestly retired into the angles of the room,
and left the distinguished pair in a certain isolation, but the
young clergyman was unrestrained by any sentiment of awe, and,
marching boldly up, took his place at the nearest table.
The conversation was, indeed, new to the student's ears. The ex-
Dictator of Paraguay stated many extraordinary experiences in
different quarters of the world; and the Prince supplied a
commentary which, to a man of thought, was even more interesting
than the events themselves. Two forms of experience were thus
brought together and laid before the young clergyman; and he did
not know which to admire the most - the desperate actor or the
skilled expert in life; the man who spoke boldly of his own deeds
and perils, or the man who seemed, like a god, to know all things
and to have suffered nothing. The manner of each aptly fitted with
his part in the discourse. The Dictator indulged in brutalities
alike of speech and gesture; his hand opened and shut and fell
roughly on the table; and his voice was loud and heavy. The
Prince, on the other hand, seemed the very type of urbane docility
and quiet; the least movement, the least inflection, had with him a
weightier significance than all the shouts and pantomime of his
companion; and if ever, as must frequently have been the case, he
described some experience personal to himself, it was so aptly
dissimulated as to pass unnoticed with the rest.
At length the talk wandered on to the late robberies and the
Rajah's Diamond.
"That diamond would be better in the sea," observed Prince
"As a Vandeleur," replied the Dictator, "your Highness may imagine
my dissent."
"I speak on grounds of public policy," pursued the Prince. "Jewels
so valuable should be reserved for the collection of a Prince or
the treasury of a great nation. To hand them about among the
common sort of men is to set a price on Virtue's head; and if the
Rajah of Kashgar - a Prince, I understand, of great enlightenment -
desired vengeance upon the men of Europe, he could hardly have gone
more efficaciously about his purpose than by sending us this apple
of discord. There is no honesty too robust for such a trial. I
myself, who have many duties and many privileges of my own - I
myself, Mr. Vandeleur, could scarce handle the intoxicating crystal
and be safe. As for you, who are a diamond hunter by taste and
profession, I do not believe there is a crime in the calendar you
would not perpetrate - I do not believe you have a friend in the
world whom you would not eagerly betray - I do not know if you have
a family, but if you have I declare you would sacrifice your
children - and all this for what? Not to be richer, nor to have
more comforts or more respect, but simply to call this diamond
yours for a year or two until you die, and now and again to open a
safe and look at it as one looks at a picture."
"It is true," replied Vandeleur. "I have hunted most things, from
men and women down to mosquitos; I have dived for coral; I have
followed both whales and tigers; and a diamond is the tallest
quarry of the lot. It has beauty and worth; it alone can properly
reward the ardours of the chase. At this moment, as your Highness
may fancy, I am upon the trail; I have a sure knack, a wide
experience; I know every stone of price in my brother's collection
as a shepherd knows his sheep; and I wish I may die if I do not
recover them every one!"
"Sir Thomas Vandeleur will have great cause to thank you," said the
"I am not so sure," returned the Dictator, with a laugh. "One of
the Vandeleurs will. Thomas or John - Peter or Paul - we are all
"I did not catch your observation," said the Prince with some
And at the same moment the waiter informed Mr. Vandeleur that his
cab was at the door.
Mr. Rolles glanced at the clock, and saw that he also must be
moving; and the coincidence struck him sharply and unpleasantly,
for he desired to see no more of the diamond hunter.
Much study having somewhat shaken the young man's nerves, he was in
the habit of travelling in the most luxurious manner; and for the
present journey he had taken a sofa in the sleeping carriage.
"You will be very comfortable," said the guard; "there is no one in
your compartment, and only one old gentleman in the other end."
It was close upon the hour, and the tickets were being examined,
when Mr. Rolles beheld this other fellow-passenger ushered by
several porters into his place; certainly, there was not another
man in the world whom he would not have preferred - for it was old
John Vandeleur, the ex-Dictator.
The sleeping carriages on the Great Northern line were divided into
three compartments - one at each end for travellers, and one in the
centre fitted with the conveniences of a lavatory. A door running
in grooves separated each of the others from the lavatory; but as
there were neither bolts nor locks, the whole suite was practically
common ground.
When Mr. Rolles had studied his position, he perceived himself
without defence. If the Dictator chose to pay him a visit in the
course of the night, he could do no less than receive it; he had no
means of fortification, and lay open to attack as if he had been
lying in the fields. This situation caused him some agony of mind.
He recalled with alarm the boastful statements of his fellowtraveller
across the dining-table, and the professions of
immorality which he had heard him offering to the disgusted Prince.
Some persons, he remembered to have read, are endowed with a
singular quickness of perception for the neighbourhood of precious
metals; through walls and even at considerable distances they are
said to divine the presence of gold. Might it not be the same with
diamonds? he wondered; and if so, who was more likely to enjoy this
transcendental sense than the person who gloried in the appellation
of the Diamond Hunter? From such a man he recognised that he had
everything to fear, and longed eagerly for the arrival of the day.
In the meantime he neglected no precaution, concealed his diamond
in the most internal pocket of a system of great-coats, and
devoutly recommended himself to the care of Providence.
The train pursued its usual even and rapid course; and nearly half
the journey had been accomplished before slumber began to triumph
over uneasiness in the breast of Mr. Rolles. For some time he
resisted its influence; but it grew upon him more and more, and a
little before York he was fain to stretch himself upon one of the
couches and suffer his eyes to close; and almost at the same
instant consciousness deserted the young clergyman. His last
thought was of his terrifying neighbour.
When he awoke it was still pitch dark, except for the flicker of
the veiled lamp; and the continual roaring and oscillation
testified to the unrelaxed velocity of the train. He sat upright
in a panic, for he had been tormented by the most uneasy dreams; it
was some seconds before he recovered his self-command; and even
after he had resumed a recumbent attitude sleep continued to flee
him, and he lay awake with his brain in a state of violent
agitation, and his eyes fixed upon the lavatory door. He pulled
his clerical felt hat over his brow still farther to shield him
from the light; and he adopted the usual expedients, such as
counting a thousand or banishing thought, by which experienced
invalids are accustomed to woo the approach of sleep. In the case
of Mr. Rolles they proved one and all vain; he was harassed by a
dozen different anxieties - the old man in the other end of the
carriage haunted him in the most alarming shapes; and in whatever
attitude he chose to lie the diamond in his pocket occasioned him a
sensible physical distress. It burned, it was too large, it
bruised his ribs; and there were infinitesimal fractions of a
second in which he had half a mind to throw it from the window.
While he was thus lying, a strange incident took place.
The sliding-door into the lavatory stirred a little, and then a
little more, and was finally drawn back for the space of about
twenty inches. The lamp in the lavatory was unshaded, and in the
lighted aperture thus disclosed, Mr. Rolles could see the head of
Mr. Vandeleur in an attitude of deep attention. He was conscious
that the gaze of the Dictator rested intently on his own face; and
the instinct of self-preservation moved him to hold his breath, to
refrain from the least movement, and keeping his eyes lowered, to
watch his visitor from underneath the lashes. After about a
moment, the head was withdrawn and the door of the lavatory
The Dictator had not come to attack, but to observe; his action was
not that of a man threatening another, but that of a man who was
himself threatened; if Mr. Rolles was afraid of him, it appeared
that he, in his turn, was not quite easy on the score of Mr.
Rolles. He had come, it would seem, to make sure that his only
fellow-traveller was asleep; and, when satisfied on that point, he
had at once withdrawn.
The clergyman leaped to his feet. The extreme of terror had given
place to a reaction of foolhardy daring. He reflected that the
rattle of the flying train concealed all other sounds, and
determined, come what might, to return the visit he had just
received. Divesting himself of his cloak, which might have
interfered with the freedom of his action, he entered the lavatory
and paused to listen. As he had expected, there was nothing to be
heard above the roar of the train's progress; and laying his hand
on the door at the farther side, he proceeded cautiously to draw it
back for about six inches. Then he stopped, and could not contain
an ejaculation of surprise.
John Vandeleur wore a fur travelling cap with lappets to protect
his ears; and this may have combined with the sound of the express
to keep him in ignorance of what was going forward. It is certain,
at least, that he did not raise his head, but continued without
interruption to pursue his strange employment. Between his feet
stood an open hat-box; in one hand he held the sleeve of his
sealskin great-coat; in the other a formidable knife, with which he
had just slit up the lining of the sleeve. Mr. Rolles had read of
persons carrying money in a belt; and as he had no acquaintance
with any but cricket-belts, he had never been able rightly to
conceive how this was managed. But here was a stranger thing
before his eyes; for John Vandeleur, it appeared, carried diamonds
in the lining of his sleeve; and even as the young clergyman gazed,
he could see one glittering brilliant drop after another into the
He stood riveted to the spot, following this unusual business with
his eyes. The diamonds were, for the most part, small, and not
easily distinguishable either in shape or fire. Suddenly the
Dictator appeared to find a difficulty; he employed both hands and
stooped over his task; but it was not until after considerable
manoeuvring that he extricated a large tiara of diamonds from the
lining, and held it up for some seconds' examination before he
placed it with the others in the hat-box. The tiara was a ray of
light to Mr. Rolles; he immediately recognised it for a part of the
treasure stolen from Harry Hartley by the loiterer. There was no
room for mistake; it was exactly as the detective had described it;
there were the ruby stars, with a great emerald in the centre;
there were the interlacing crescents; and there were the pearshaped
pendants, each a single stone, which gave a special value to
Lady Vandeleur's tiara.
Mr. Rolles was hugely relieved. The Dictator was as deeply in the
affair as he was; neither could tell tales upon the other. In the
first glow of happiness, the clergyman suffered a deep sigh to
escape him; and as his bosom had become choked and his throat dry
during his previous suspense, the sigh was followed by a cough.
Mr. Vandeleur looked up; his face contracted with the blackest and
most deadly passion; his eyes opened widely, and his under jaw
dropped in an astonishment that was upon the brink of fury. By an
instinctive movement he had covered the hat-box with the coat. For
half a minute the two men stared upon each other in silence. It
was not a long interval, but it sufficed for Mr. Rolles; he was one
of those who think swiftly on dangerous occasions; he decided on a
course of action of a singularly daring nature; and although he
felt he was setting his life upon the hazard, he was the first to
break silence.
"I beg your pardon," said he.
The Dictator shivered slightly, and when he spoke his voice was
"What do you want here?" he asked.
"I take a particular interest in diamonds," replied Mr. Rolles,
with an air of perfect self-possession. "Two connoisseurs should
be acquainted. I have here a trifle of my own which may perhaps
serve for an introduction."
And so saying, he quietly took the case from his pocket, showed the
Rajah's Diamond to the Dictator for an instant, and replaced it in
"It was once your brother's," he added.
John Vandeleur continued to regard him with a look of almost
painful amazement; but he neither spoke nor moved.
"I was pleased to observe," resumed the young man, "that we have
gems from the same collection."
The Dictator's surprise overpowered him.
"I beg your pardon," he said; "I begin to perceive that I am
growing old! I am positively not prepared for little incidents
like this. But set my mind at rest upon one point: do my eyes
deceive me, or are you indeed a parson?"
"I am in holy orders," answered Mr. Rolles.
"Well," cried the other, "as long as I live I will never hear
another word against the cloth!"
"You flatter me," said Mr. Rolles.
"Pardon me," replied Vandeleur; "pardon me, young man. You are no
coward, but it still remains to be seen whether you are not the
worst of fools. Perhaps," he continued, leaning back upon his
seat, "perhaps you would oblige me with a few particulars. I must
suppose you had some object in the stupefying impudence of your
proceedings, and I confess I have a curiosity to know it."
"It is very simple," replied the clergyman; "it proceeds from my
great inexperience of life."
"I shall be glad to be persuaded," answered Vandeleur.
Whereupon Mr. Rolles told him the whole story of his connection
with the Rajah's Diamond, from the time he found it in Raeburn's
garden to the time when he left London in the Flying Scotchman. He
added a brief sketch of his feelings and thoughts during the
journey, and concluded in these words:-
"When I recognised the tiara I knew we were in the same attitude
towards Society, and this inspired me with a hope, which I trust
you will say was not ill-founded, that you might become in some
sense my partner in the difficulties and, of course, the profits of
my situation. To one of your special knowledge and obviously great
experience the negotiation of the diamond would give but little
trouble, while to me it was a matter of impossibility. On the
other part, I judged that I might lose nearly as much by cutting
the diamond, and that not improbably with an unskilful hand, as
might enable me to pay you with proper generosity for your
assistance. The subject was a delicate one to broach; and perhaps
I fell short in delicacy. But I must ask you to remember that for
me the situation was a new one, and I was entirely unacquainted
with the etiquette in use. I believe without vanity that I could
have married or baptized you in a very acceptable manner; but every
man has his own aptitudes, and this sort of bargain was not among
the list of my accomplishments."
"I do not wish to flatter you," replied Vandeleur; "but upon my
word, you have an unusual disposition for a life of crime. You
have more accomplishments than you imagine; and though I have
encountered a number of rogues in different quarters of the world,
I never met with one so unblushing as yourself. Cheer up, Mr.
Rolles, you are in the right profession at last! As for helping
you, you may command me as you will. I have only a day's business
in Edinburgh on a little matter for my brother; and once that is
concluded, I return to Paris, where I usually reside. If you
please, you may accompany me thither. And before the end of a
month I believe I shall have brought your little business to a
satisfactory conclusion."
(At this point, contrary to all the canons of his art, our Arabian
author breaks off the STORY OF THE YOUNG MAN IN HOLY ORDERS. I
regret and condemn such practices; but I must follow my original,
and refer the reader for the conclusion of Mr. Rolles' adventures
to the next number of the cycle, the STORY OF THE HOUSE WITH THE
Francis Scrymgeour, a clerk in the Bank of Scotland at Edinburgh,
had attained the age of twenty-five in a sphere of quiet,
creditable, and domestic life. His mother died while he was young;
but his father, a man of sense and probity, had given him an
excellent education at school, and brought him up at home to
orderly and frugal habits. Francis, who was of a docile and
affectionate disposition, profited by these advantages with zeal,
and devoted himself heart and soul to his employment. A walk upon
Saturday afternoon, an occasional dinner with members of his
family, and a yearly tour of a fortnight in the Highlands or even
on the continent of Europe, were his principal distractions, and,
he grew rapidly in favour with his superiors, and enjoyed already a
salary of nearly two hundred pounds a year, with the prospect of an
ultimate advance to almost double that amount. Few young men were
more contented, few more willing and laborious than Francis
Scrymgeour. Sometimes at night, when he had read the daily paper,
he would play upon the flute to amuse his father, for whose
qualities he entertained a great respect.
One day he received a note from a well-known firm of Writers to the
Signet, requesting the favour of an immediate interview with him.
The letter was marked "Private and Confidential," and had been
addressed to him at the bank, instead of at home - two unusual
circumstances which made him obey the summons with the more
alacrity. The senior member of the firm, a man of much austerity
of manner, made him gravely welcome, requested him to take a seat,
and proceeded to explain the matter in hand in the picked
expressions of a veteran man of business. A person, who must
remain nameless, but of whom the lawyer had every reason to think
well - a man, in short, of some station in the country - desired to
make Francis an annual allowance of five hundred pounds. The
capital was to be placed under the control of the lawyer's firm and
two trustees who must also remain anonymous. There were conditions
annexed to this liberality, but he was of opinion that his new
client would find nothing either excessive or dishonourable in the
terms; and he repeated these two words with emphasis, as though he
desired to commit himself to nothing more.
Francis asked their nature.
"The conditions," said the Writer to the Signet, "are, as I have
twice remarked, neither dishonourable nor excessive. At the same
time I cannot conceal from you that they are most unusual. Indeed,
the whole case is very much out of our way; and I should certainly
have refused it had it not been for the reputation of the gentleman
who entrusted it to my care, and, let me add, Mr. Scrymgeour, the
interest I have been led to take in yourself by many complimentary
and, I have no doubt, well-deserved reports."
Francis entreated him to be more specific.
"You cannot picture my uneasiness as to these conditions," he said.
"They are two," replied the lawyer, "only two; and the sum, as you
will remember, is five hundred a-year - and unburdened, I forgot to
add, unburdened."
And the lawyer raised his eyebrows at him with solemn gusto.
"The first," he resumed, "is of remarkable simplicity. You must be
in Paris by the afternoon of Sunday, the 15th; there you will find,
at the box-office of the Comedie Francaise, a ticket for admission
taken in your name and waiting you. You are requested to sit out
the whole performance in the seat provided, and that is all."
"I should certainly have preferred a week-day," replied Francis. "
But, after all, once in a way - "
"And in Paris, my dear sir," added the lawyer soothingly. "I
believe I am something of a precisian myself, but upon such a
consideration, and in Paris, I should not hesitate an instant."
And the pair laughed pleasantly together.
"The other is of more importance," continued the Writer to the
Signet. "It regards your marriage. My client, taking a deep
interest in your welfare, desires to advise you absolutely in the
choice of a wife. Absolutely, you understand," he repeated.
"Let us be more explicit, if you please," returned Francis. "Am I
to marry any one, maid or widow, black or white, whom this
invisible person chooses to propose?"
"I was to assure you that suitability of age and position should be
a principle with your benefactor," replied the lawyer. "As to
race, I confess the difficulty had not occurred to me, and I failed
to inquire; but if you like I will make a note of it at once, and
advise you on the earliest opportunity."
"Sir," said Francis, "it remains to be seen whether this whole
affair is not a most unworthy fraud. The circumstances are
inexplicable - I had almost said incredible; and until I see a
little more daylight, and some plausible motive, I confess I should
be very sorry to put a hand to the transaction. I appeal to you in
this difficulty for information. I must learn what is at the
bottom of it all. If you do not know, cannot guess, or are not at
liberty to tell me, I shall take my hat and go back to my bank as
"I do not know," answered the lawyer, "but I have an excellent
guess. Your father, and no one else, is at the root of this
apparently unnatural business."
"My father!" cried Francis, in extreme disdain. "Worthy man, I
know every thought of his mind, every penny of his fortune!"
"You misinterpret my words," said the lawyer. "I do not refer to
Mr. Scrymgeour, senior; for he is not your father. When he and his
wife came to Edinburgh, you were already nearly one year old, and
you had not yet been three months in their care. The secret has
been well kept; but such is the fact. Your father is unknown, and
I say again that I believe him to be the original of the offers I
am charged at present to transmit to you."
It would be impossible to exaggerate the astonishment of Francis
Scrymgeour at this unexpected information. He pled this confusion
to the lawyer.
"Sir," said he, "after a piece of news so startling, you must grant
me some hours for thought. You shall know this evening what
conclusion I have reached."
The lawyer commended his prudence; and Francis, excusing himself
upon some pretext at the bank, took a long walk into the country,
and fully considered the different steps and aspects of the case.
A pleasant sense of his own importance rendered him the more
deliberate: but the issue was from the first not doubtful. His
whole carnal man leaned irresistibly towards the five hundred a
year, and the strange conditions with which it was burdened; he
discovered in his heart an invincible repugnance to the name of
Scrymgeour, which he had never hitherto disliked; he began to
despise the narrow and unromantic interests of his former life; and
when once his mind was fairly made up, he walked with a new feeling
of strength and freedom, and nourished himself with the gayest
He said but a word to the lawyer, and immediately received a cheque
for two quarters' arrears; for the allowance was ante-dated from
the first of January. With this in his pocket, he walked home.
The flat in Scotland Street looked mean in his eyes; his nostrils,
for the first time, rebelled against the odour of broth; and he
observed little defects of manner in his adoptive father which
filled him with surprise and almost with disgust. The next day, he
determined, should see him on his way to Paris.
In that city, where he arrived long before the appointed date, he
put up at a modest hotel frequented by English and Italians, and
devoted himself to improvement in the French tongue; for this
purpose he had a master twice a week, entered into conversation
with loiterers in the Champs Elysees, and nightly frequented the
theatre. He had his whole toilette fashionably renewed; and was
shaved and had his hair dressed every morning by a barber in a
neighbouring street. This gave him something of a foreign air, and
seemed to wipe off the reproach of his past years.
At length, on the Saturday afternoon, he betook himself to the boxoffice
of the theatre in the Rue Richelieu. No sooner had he
mentioned his name than the clerk produced the order in an envelope
of which the address was scarcely dry.
"It has been taken this moment," said the clerk.
"Indeed!" said Francis. "May I ask what the gentleman was like?"
"Your friend is easy to describe," replied the official. "He is
old and strong and beautiful, with white hair and a sabre-cut
across his face. You cannot fail to recognise so marked a person."
"No, indeed," returned Francis; "and I thank you for your
"He cannot yet be far distant," added the clerk. "If you make
haste you might still overtake him."
Francis did not wait to be twice told; he ran precipitately from
the theatre into the middle of the street and looked in all
directions. More than one white-haired man was within sight; but
though he overtook each of them in succession, all wanted the
sabre-cut. For nearly half-an-hour he tried one street after
another in the neighbourhood, until at length, recognising the
folly of continued search, he started on a walk to compose his
agitated feelings; for this proximity of an encounter with him to
whom he could not doubt he owed the day had profoundly moved the
young man.
It chanced that his way lay up the Rue Drouot and thence up the Rue
des Martyrs; and chance, in this case, served him better than all
the forethought in the world. For on the outer boulevard he saw
two men in earnest colloquy upon a seat. One was dark, young, and
handsome, secularly dressed, but with an indelible clerical stamp;
the other answered in every particular to the description given him
by the clerk. Francis felt his heart beat high in his bosom; he
knew he was now about to hear the voice of his father; and making a
wide circuit, he noiselessly took his place behind the couple in
question, who were too much interested in their talk to observe
much else. As Francis had expected, the conversation was conducted
in the English language
"Your suspicions begin to annoy me, Rolles," said the older man.
"I tell you I am doing my utmost; a man cannot lay his hand on
millions in a moment. Have I not taken you up, a mere stranger,
out of pure good-will? Are you not living largely on my bounty?"
"On your advances, Mr. Vandeleur," corrected the other.
"Advances, if you choose; and interest instead of goodwill, if you
prefer it," returned Vandeleur angrily. "I am not here to pick
expressions. Business is business; and your business, let me
remind you, is too muddy for such airs. Trust me, or leave me
alone and find some one else; but let us have an end, for God's
sake, of your jeremiads."
"I am beginning to learn the world," replied the other, "and I see
that you have every reason to play me false, and not one to deal
honestly. I am not here to pick expressions either; you wish the
diamond for yourself; you know you do - you dare not deny it. Have
you not already forged my name, and searched my lodging in my
absence? I understand the cause of your delays; you are lying in
wait; you are the diamond hunter, forsooth; and sooner or later, by
fair means or foul, you'll lay your hands upon it. I tell you, it
must stop; push me much further and I promise you a surprise."
"It does not become you to use threats," returned Vandeleur. "Two
can play at that. My brother is here in Paris; the police are on
the alert; and if you persist in wearying me with your
caterwauling, I will arrange a little astonishment for you, Mr.
Rolles. But mine shall be once and for all. Do you understand, or
would you prefer me to tell it you in Hebrew? There is an end to
all things, and you have come to the end of my patience. Tuesday,
at seven; not a day, not an hour sooner, not the least part of a
second, if it were to save your life. And if you do not choose to
wait, you may go to the bottomless pit for me, and welcome."
And so saying, the Dictator arose from the bench, and marched off
in the direction of Montmartre, shaking his head and swinging his
cane with a most furious air; while his companion remained where he
was, in an attitude of great dejection.
Francis was at the pitch of surprise and horror; his sentiments had
been shocked to the last degree; the hopeful tenderness with which
he had taken his place upon the bench was transformed into
repulsion and despair; old Mr. Scrymgeour, he reflected, was a far
more kindly and creditable parent than this dangerous and violent
intriguer; but he retained his presence of mind, and suffered not a
moment to elapse before he was on the trail of the Dictator.
That gentleman's fury carried him forward at a brisk pace, and he
was so completely occupied in his angry thoughts that he never so
much as cast a look behind him till he reached his own door.
His house stood high up in the Rue Lepic, commanding a view of all
Paris and enjoying the pure air of the heights. It was two storeys
high, with green blinds and shutters; and all the windows looking
on the street were hermetically closed. Tops of trees showed over
the high garden wall, and the wall was protected by CHEVAUX-DEFRISE.
The Dictator paused a moment while he searched his pocket
for a key; and then, opening a gate, disappeared within the
Francis looked about him; the neighbourhood was very lonely, the
house isolated in its garden. It seemed as if his observation must
here come to an abrupt end. A second glance, however, showed him a
tall house next door presenting a gable to the garden, and in this
gable a single window. He passed to the front and saw a ticket
offering unfurnished lodgings by the month; and, on inquiry, the
room which commanded the Dictator's garden proved to be one of
those to let. Francis did not hesitate a moment; he took the room,
paid an advance upon the rent, and returned to his hotel to seek
his baggage.
The old man with the sabre-cut might or might not be his father; he
might or he might not be upon the true scent; but he was certainly
on the edge of an exciting mystery, and he promised himself that he
would not relax his observation until he had got to the bottom of
the secret.
From the window of his new apartment Francis Scrymgeour commanded a
complete view into the garden of the house with the green blinds.
Immediately below him a very comely chestnut with wide boughs
sheltered a pair of rustic tables where people might dine in the
height of summer. On all sides save one a dense vegetation
concealed the soil; but there, between the tables and the house, he
saw a patch of gravel walk leading from the verandah to the gardengate.
Studying the place from between the boards of the Venetian
shutters, which he durst not open for fear of attracting attention,
Francis observed but little to indicate the manners of the
inhabitants, and that little argued no more than a close reserve
and a taste for solitude. The garden was conventual, the house had
the air of a prison. The green blinds were all drawn down upon the
outside; the door into the verandah was closed; the garden, as far
as he could see it, was left entirely to itself in the evening
sunshine. A modest curl of smoke from a single chimney alone
testified to the presence of living people.
In order that he might not be entirely idle, and to give a certain
colour to his way of life, Francis had purchased Euclid's Geometry
in French, which he set himself to copy and translate on the top of
his portmanteau and seated on the floor against the wall; for he
was equally without chair or table. From time to time he would
rise and cast a glance into the enclosure of the house with the
green blinds; but the windows remained obstinately closed and the
garden empty.
Only late in the evening did anything occur to reward his continued
attention. Between nine and ten the sharp tinkle of a bell aroused
him from a fit of dozing; and he sprang to his observatory in time
to hear an important noise of locks being opened and bars removed,
and to see Mr. Vandeleur, carrying a lantern and clothed in a
flowing robe of black velvet with a skull-cap to match, issue from
under the verandah and proceed leisurely towards the garden gate.
The sound of bolts and bars was then repeated; and a moment after
Francis perceived the Dictator escorting into the house, in the
mobile light of the lantern, an individual of the lowest and most
despicable appearance.
Half-an-hour afterwards the visitor was reconducted to the street;
and Mr. Vandeleur, setting his light upon one of the rustic tables,
finished a cigar with great deliberation under the foliage of the
chestnut. Francis, peering through a clear space among the leaves,
was able to follow his gestures as he threw away the ash or enjoyed
a copious inhalation; and beheld a cloud upon the old man's brow
and a forcible action of the lips, which testified to some deep and
probably painful train of thought. The cigar was already almost at
an end, when the voice of a young girl was heard suddenly crying
the hour from the interior of the house.
"In a moment," replied John Vandeleur.
And, with that, he threw away the stump and, taking up the lantern,
sailed away under the verandah for the night. As soon as the door
was closed, absolute darkness fell upon the house; Francis might
try his eyesight as much as he pleased, he could not detect so much
as a single chink of light below a blind; and he concluded, with
great good sense, that the bed-chambers were all upon the other
Early the next morning (for he was early awake after an
uncomfortable night upon the floor), he saw cause to adopt a
different explanation. The blinds rose, one after another, by
means of a spring in the interior, and disclosed steel shutters
such as we see on the front of shops; these in their turn were
rolled up by a similar contrivance; and for the space of about an
hour, the chambers were left open to the morning air. At the end
of that time Mr. Vandeleur, with his own hand, once more closed the
shutters and replaced the blinds from within.
While Francis was still marvelling at these precautions, the door
opened and a young girl came forth to look about her in the garden.
It was not two minutes before she re-entered the house, but even in
that short time he saw enough to convince him that she possessed
the most unusual attractions. His curiosity was not only highly
excited by this incident, but his spirits were improved to a still
more notable degree. The alarming manners and more than equivocal
life of his father ceased from that moment to prey upon his mind;
from that moment he embraced his new family with ardour; and
whether the young lady should prove his sister or his wife, he felt
convinced she was an angel in disguise. So much was this the case
that he was seized with a sudden horror when he reflected how
little he really knew, and how possible it was that he had followed
the wrong person when he followed Mr. Vandeleur.
The porter, whom he consulted, could afford him little information;
but, such as it was, it had a mysterious and questionable sound.
The person next door was an English gentleman of extraordinary
wealth, and proportionately eccentric in his tastes and habits. He
possessed great collections, which he kept in the house beside him;
and it was to protect these that he had fitted the place with steel
shutters, elaborate fastenings, and CHEVAUX-DE-FRISE along the
garden wall. He lived much alone, in spite of some strange
visitors with whom, it seemed, he had business to transact; and
there was no one else in the house, except Mademoiselle and an old
woman servant
"Is Mademoiselle his daughter?" inquired Francis.
"Certainly," replied the porter. "Mademoiselle is the daughter of
the house; and strange it is to see how she is made to work. For
all his riches, it is she who goes to market; and every day in the
week you may see her going by with a basket on her arm."
"And the collections?" asked the other.
"Sir," said the man, "they are immensely valuable. More I cannot
tell you. Since M. de Vandeleur's arrival no one in the quarter
has so much as passed the door."
"Suppose not," returned Francis, "you must surely have some notion
what these famous galleries contain. Is it pictures, silks,
statues, jewels, or what?"
"My faith, sir," said the fellow with a shrug, "it might be
carrots, and still I could not tell you. How should I know? The
house is kept like a garrison, as you perceive."
And then as Francis was returning disappointed to his room, the
porter called him back.
"I have just remembered, sir," said he. "M. de Vandeleur has been
in all parts of the world, and I once heard the old woman declare
that he had brought many diamonds back with him. If that be the
truth, there must be a fine show behind those shutters."
By an early hour on Sunday Francis was in his place at the theatre.
The seat which had been taken for him was only two or three numbers
from the left-hand side, and directly opposite one of the lower
boxes. As the seat had been specially chosen there was doubtless
something to be learned from its position; and he judged by an
instinct that the box upon his right was, in some way or other, to
be connected with the drama in which he ignorantly played a part.
Indeed, it was so situated that its occupants could safely observe
him from beginning to end of the piece, if they were so minded;
while, profiting by the depth, they could screen themselves
sufficiently well from any counter-examination on his side. He
promised himself not to leave it for a moment out of sight; and
whilst he scanned the rest of the theatre, or made a show of
attending to the business of the stage, he always kept a corner of
an eye upon the empty box.
The second act had been some time in progress, and was even drawing
towards a close, when the door opened and two persons entered and
ensconced themselves in the darkest of the shade. Francis could
hardly control his emotion. It was Mr. Vandeleur and his daughter.
The blood came and went in his arteries and veins with stunning
activity; his ears sang; his head turned. He dared not look lest
he should awake suspicion; his play-bill, which he kept reading
from end to end and over and over again, turned from white to red
before his eyes; and when he cast a glance upon the stage, it
seemed incalculably far away, and he found the voices and gestures
of the actors to the last degree impertinent and absurd.
From time to time he risked a momentary look in the direction which
principally interested him; and once at least he felt certain that
his eyes encountered those of the young girl. A shock passed over
his body, and he saw all the colours of the rainbow. What would he
not have given to overhear what passed between the Vandeleurs?
What would he not have given for the courage to take up his operaglass
and steadily inspect their attitude and expression? There,
for aught he knew, his whole life was being decided - and he not
able to interfere, not able even to follow the debate, but
condemned to sit and suffer where he was, in impotent anxiety.
At last the act came to an end. The curtain fell, and the people
around him began to leave their places, for the interval. It was
only natural that he should follow their example; and if he did so,
it was not only natural but necessary that he should pass
immediately in front of the box in question. Summoning all his
courage, but keeping his eyes lowered, Francis drew near the spot.
His progress was slow, for the old gentleman before him moved with
incredible deliberation, wheezing as he went. What was he to do?
Should he address the Vandeleurs by name as he went by? Should he
take the flower from his button-hole and throw it into the box?
Should he raise his face and direct one long and affectionate look
upon the lady who was either his sister or his betrothed? As he
found himself thus struggling among so many alternatives, he had a
vision of his old equable existence in the bank, and was assailed
by a thought of regret for the past.
By this time he had arrived directly opposite the box; and although
he was still undetermined what to do or whether to do anything, he
turned his head and lifted his eyes. No sooner had he done so than
he uttered a cry of disappointment and remained rooted to the spot.
The box was empty. During his slow advance Mr. Vandeleur and his
daughter had quietly slipped away.
A polite person in his rear reminded him that he was stopping the
path; and he moved on again with mechanical footsteps, and suffered
the crowd to carry him unresisting out of the theatre. Once in the
street, the pressure ceasing, he came to a halt, and the cool night
air speedily restored him to the possession of his faculties. He
was surprised to find that his head ached violently, and that he
remembered not one word of the two acts which he had witnessed. As
the excitement wore away, it was succeeded by an overweening
appetite for sleep, and he hailed a cab and drove to his lodging in
a state of extreme exhaustion and some disgust of life.
Next morning he lay in wait for Miss Vandeleur on her road to
market, and by eight o'clock beheld her stepping down a lane. She
was simply, and even poorly, attired; but in the carriage of her
head and body there was something flexible and noble that would
have lent distinction to the meanest toilette. Even her basket, so
aptly did she carry it, became her like an ornament. It seemed to
Francis, as he slipped into a doorway, that the sunshine followed
and the shadows fled before her as she walked; and he was
conscious, for the first time, of a bird singing in a cage above
the lane.
He suffered her to pass the doorway, and then, coming forth once
more, addressed her by name from behind. "Miss Vandeleur," said
She turned and, when she saw who he was, became deadly pale.
"Pardon me," he continued; "Heaven knows I had no will to startle
you; and, indeed, there should be nothing startling in the presence
of one who wishes you so well as I do. And, believe me, I am
acting rather from necessity than choice. We have many things in
common, and I am sadly in the dark. There is much that I should be
doing, and my hands are tied. I do not know even what to feel, nor
who are my friends and enemies."
She found her voice with an effort.
"I do not know who you are," she said.
"Ah, yes! Miss Vandeleur, you do," returned Francis "better than I
do myself. Indeed, it is on that, above all, that I seek light.
Tell me what you know," he pleaded. "Tell me who I am, who you
are, and how our destinies are intermixed. Give me a little help
with my life, Miss Vandeleur - only a word or two to guide me, only
the name of my father, if you will - and I shall be grateful and
"I will not attempt to deceive you," she replied. "I know who you
are, but I am not at liberty to say."
"Tell me, at least, that you have forgiven my presumption, and I
shall wait with all the patience I have," he said. "If I am not to
know, I must do without. It is cruel, but I can bear more upon a
push. Only do not add to my troubles the thought that I have made
an enemy of you."
"You did only what was natural," she said, "and I have nothing to
forgive you. Farewell."
"Is it to be FAREWELL?" he asked.
"Nay, that I do not know myself," she answered. "Farewell for the
present, if you like."
And with these words she was gone.
Francis returned to his lodging in a state of considerable
commotion of mind. He made the most trifling progress with his
Euclid for that forenoon, and was more often at the window than at
his improvised writing-table. But beyond seeing the return of Miss
Vandeleur, and the meeting between her and her father, who was
smoking a Trichinopoli cigar in the verandah, there was nothing
notable in the neighbourhood of the house with the green blinds
before the time of the mid-day meal. The young man hastily allayed
his appetite in a neighbouring restaurant, and returned with the
speed of unallayed curiosity to the house in the Rue Lepic. A
mounted servant was leading a saddle-horse to and fro before the
garden wall; and the porter of Francis's lodging was smoking a pipe
against the door-post, absorbed in contemplation of the livery and
the steeds.
"Look!" he cried to the young man, "what fine cattle! what an
elegant costume! They belong to the brother of M. de Vandeleur,
who is now within upon a visit. He is a great man, a general, in
your country; and you doubtless know him well by reputation."
"I confess," returned Francis, "that I have never heard of General
Vandeleur before. We have many officers of that grade, and my
pursuits have been exclusively civil."
"It is he," replied the porter, "who lost the great diamond of the
Indies. Of that at least you must have read often in the papers."
As soon as Francis could disengage himself from the porter he ran
upstairs and hurried to the window. Immediately below the clear
space in the chestnut leaves, the two gentlemen were seated in
conversation over a cigar. The General, a red, military-looking
man, offered some traces of a family resemblance to his brother; he
had something of the same features, something, although very
little, of the same free and powerful carriage; but he was older,
smaller, and more common in air; his likeness was that of a
caricature, and he seemed altogether a poor and debile being by the
side of the Dictator.
They spoke in tones so low, leaning over the table with every
appearance of interest, that Francis could catch no more than a
word or two on an occasion. For as little as he heard, he was
convinced that the conversation turned upon himself and his own
career; several times the name of Scrymgeour reached his ear, for
it was easy to distinguish, and still more frequently he fancied he
could distinguish the name Francis.
At length the General, as if in a hot anger, broke forth into
several violent exclamations.
"Francis Vandeleur!" he cried, accentuating the last word.
"Francis Vandeleur, I tell you."
The Dictator made a movement of his whole body, half affirmative,
half contemptuous, but his answer was inaudible to the young man.
Was he the Francis Vandeleur in question? he wondered. Were they
discussing the name under which he was to be married? Or was the
whole affair a dream and a delusion of his own conceit and selfabsorption?
After another interval of inaudible talk, dissension seemed again
to arise between the couple underneath the chestnut, and again the
General raised his voice angrily so as to be audible to Francis.
"My wife?" he cried. "I have done with my wife for good. I will
not hear her name. I am sick of her very name."
And he swore aloud and beat the table with his fist.
The Dictator appeared, by his gestures, to pacify him after a
paternal fashion; and a little after he conducted him to the
garden-gate. The pair shook hands affectionately enough; but as
soon as the door had closed behind his visitor, John Vandeleur fell
into a fit of laughter which sounded unkindly and even devilish in
the ears of Francis Scrymgeour.
So another day had passed, and little more learnt. But the young
man remembered that the morrow was Tuesday, and promised himself
some curious discoveries; all might be well, or all might be ill;
he was sure, at least, to glean some curious information, and,
perhaps, by good luck, get at the heart of the mystery which
surrounded his father and his family.
As the hour of the dinner drew near many preparations were made in
the garden of the house with the green blinds. That table which
was partly visible to Francis through the chestnut leaves was
destined to serve as a sideboard, and carried relays of plates and
the materials for salad: the other, which was almost entirely
concealed, had been set apart for the diners, and Francis could
catch glimpses of white cloth and silver plate.
Mr. Rolles arrived, punctual to the minute; he looked like a man
upon his guard, and spoke low and sparingly. The Dictator, on the
other hand, appeared to enjoy an unusual flow of spirits; his
laugh, which was youthful and pleasant to hear, sounded frequently
from the garden; by the modulation and the changes of his voice it
was obvious that he told many droll stories and imitated the
accents of a variety of different nations; and before he and the
young clergyman had finished their vermouth all feeling of distrust
was at an end, and they were talking together like a pair of school
At length Miss Vandeleur made her appearance, carrying the souptureen.
Mr. Rolles ran to offer her assistance which she
laughingly refused; and there was an interchange of pleasantries
among the trio which seemed to have reference to this primitive
manner of waiting by one of the company.
"One is more at one's ease," Mr. Vandeleur was heard to declare.
Next moment they were all three in their places, and Francis could
see as little as he could hear of what passed. But the dinner
seemed to go merrily; there was a perpetual babble of voices and
sound of knives and forks below the chestnut; and Francis, who had
no more than a roll to gnaw, was affected with envy by the comfort
and deliberation of the meal. The party lingered over one dish
after another, and then over a delicate dessert, with a bottle of
old wine carefully uncorked by the hand of the Dictator himself.
As it began to grow dark a lamp was set upon the table and a couple
of candles on the sideboard; for the night was perfectly pure,
starry, and windless. Light overflowed besides from the door and
window in the verandah, so that the garden was fairly illuminated
and the leaves twinkled in the darkness.
For perhaps the tenth time Miss Vandeleur entered the house; and on
this occasion she returned with the coffee-tray, which she placed
upon the sideboard. At the same moment her father rose from his
"The coffee is my province," Francis heard him say.
And next moment he saw his supposed father standing by the
sideboard in the light of the candles.
Talking over his shoulder all the while, Mr. Vandeleur poured out
two cups of the brown stimulant, and then, by a rapid act of
prestidigitation, emptied the contents of a tiny phial into the
smaller of the two. The thing was so swiftly done that even
Francis, who looked straight into his face, had hardly time to
perceive the movement before it was completed. And next instant,
and still laughing, Mr. Vandeleur had turned again towards the
table with a cup in either hand.
"Ere we have done with this," said he, "we may expect our famous
It would be impossible to depict the confusion and distress of
Francis Scrymgeour. He saw foul play going forward before his
eyes, and he felt bound to interfere, but knew not how. It might
be a mere pleasantry, and then how should he look if he were to
offer an unnecessary warning? Or again, if it were serious, the
criminal might be his own father, and then how should he not lament
if he were to bring ruin on the author of his days? For the first
time he became conscious of his own position as a spy. To wait
inactive at such a juncture and with such a conflict of sentiments
in his bosom was to suffer the most acute torture; he clung to the
bars of the shutters, his heart beat fast and with irregularity,
and he felt a strong sweat break forth upon his body.
Several minutes passed.
He seemed to perceive the conversation die away and grow less and
less in vivacity and volume; but still no sign of any alarming or
even notable event.
Suddenly the ring of a glass breaking was followed by a faint and
dull sound, as of a person who should have fallen forward with his
head upon the table. At the same moment a piercing scream rose
from the garden.
"What have you done?" cried Miss Vandeleur. "He is dead!"
The Dictator replied in a violent whisper, so strong and sibilant
that every word was audible to the watcher at the window.
"Silence!' said Mr. Vandeleur; "the man is as well as I am. Take
him by the heels whilst I carry him by the shoulders."
Francis heard Miss Vandeleur break forth into a passion of tears.
"Do you hear what I say?" resumed the Dictator, in the same tones.
"Or do you wish to quarrel with me? I give you your choice, Miss
There was another pause, and the Dictator spoke again.
"Take that man by the heels," he said. "I must have him brought
into the house. If I were a little younger, I could help myself
against the world. But now that years and dangers are upon me and
my hands are weakened, I must turn to you for aid."
"It is a crime," replied the girl.
"I am your father," said Mr. Vandeleur.
This appeal seemed to produce its effect. A scuffling noise
followed upon the gravel, a chair was overset, and then Francis saw
the father and daughter stagger across the walk and disappear under
the verandah, bearing the inanimate body of Mr. Rolles embraced
about the knees and shoulders. The young clergyman was limp and
pallid, and his head rolled upon his shoulders at every step.
Was he alive or dead? Francis, in spite of the Dictator's
declaration, inclined to the latter view. A great crime had been
committed; a great calamity had fallen upon the inhabitants of the
house with the green blinds. To his surprise, Francis found all
horror for the deed swallowed up in sorrow for a girl and an old
man whom he judged to be in the height of peril. A tide of
generous feeling swept into his heart; he, too, would help his
father against man and mankind, against fate and justice; and
casting open the shutters he closed his eyes and threw himself with
out-stretched arms into the foliage of the chestnut.
Branch after branch slipped from his grasp or broke under his
weight; then he caught a stalwart bough under his armpit, and hung
suspended for a second; and then he let himself drop and fell
heavily against the table. A cry of alarm from the house warned
him that his entrance had not been effected unobserved. He
recovered himself with a stagger, and in three bounds crossed the
intervening space and stood before the door in the verandah.
In a small apartment, carpeted with matting and surrounded by
glazed cabinets full of rare and costly curios, Mr. Vandeleur was
stooping over the body of Mr. Rolles. He raised himself as Francis
entered, and there was an instantaneous passage of hands. It was
the business of a second; as fast as an eye can wink the thing was
done; the young man had not the time to be sure, but it seemed to
him as if the Dictator had taken something from the curate's
breast, looked at it for the least fraction of time as it lay in
his hand, and then suddenly and swiftly passed it to his daughter.
All this was over while Francis had still one foot upon the
threshold, and the other raised in air. The next instant he was on
his knees to Mr. Vandeleur.
"Father!" he cried. "Let me too help you. I will do what you wish
and ask no questions; I will obey you with my life; treat me as a
son, and you will find I have a son's devotion."
A deplorable explosion of oaths was the Dictator's first reply.
"Son and father?" he cried. "Father and son? What d-d unnatural
comedy is all this? How do you come in my garden? What do you
want? And who, in God's name, are you?"
Francis, with a stunned and shamefaced aspect, got upon his feet
again, and stood in silence.
Then a light seemed to break upon Mr. Vandeleur, and he laughed
"I see," cried he. "It is the Scrymgeour. Very well, Mr.
Scrymgeour. Let me tell you in a few words how you stand. You
have entered my private residence by force, or perhaps by fraud,
but certainly with no encouragement from me; and you come at a
moment of some annoyance, a guest having fainted at my table, to
besiege me with your protestations. You are no son of mine. You
are my brother's bastard by a fishwife, if you want to know. I
regard you with an indifference closely bordering on aversion; and
from what I now see of your conduct, I judge your mind to be
exactly suitable to your exterior. I recommend you these
mortifying reflections for your leisure; and, in the meantime, let
me beseech you to rid us of your presence. If I were not
occupied," added the Dictator, with a terrifying oath, "I should
give you the unholiest drubbing ere you went!"
Francis listened in profound humiliation. He would have fled had
it been possible; but as he had no means of leaving the residence
into which he had so unfortunately penetrated, he could do no more
than stand foolishly where he was.
It was Miss Vandeleur who broke the silence.
"Father," she said, "you speak in anger. Mr. Scrymgeour may have
been mistaken, but he meant well and kindly."
"Thank you for speaking," returned the Dictator. "You remind me of
some other observations which I hold it a point of honour to make
to Mr. Scrymgeour. My brother," he continued, addressing the young
man, "has been foolish enough to give you an allowance; he was
foolish enough and presumptuous enough to propose a match between
you and this young lady. You were exhibited to her two nights ago;
and I rejoice to tell you that she rejected the idea with disgust.
Let me add that I have considerable influence with your father; and
it shall not be my fault if you are not beggared of your allowance
and sent back to your scrivening ere the week be out."
The tones of the old man's voice were, if possible, more wounding
than his language; Francis felt himself exposed to the most cruel,
blighting, and unbearable contempt; his head turned, and he covered
his face with his hands, uttering at the same time a tearless sob
of agony. But Miss Vandeleur once again interfered in his behalf.
"Mr. Scrymgeour," she said, speaking in clear and even tones, "you
must not be concerned at my father's harsh expressions. I felt no
disgust for you; on the contrary, I asked an opportunity to make
your better acquaintance. As for what has passed to-night, believe
me it has filled my mind with both pity and esteem."
Just then Mr. Rolles made a convulsive movement with his arm, which
convinced Francis that he was only drugged, and was beginning to
throw off the influence of the opiate. Mr. Vandeleur stooped over
him and examined his face for an instant.
"Come, come!" cried he, raising his head. "Let there be an end of
this. And since you are so pleased with his conduct, Miss
Vandeleur, take a candle and show the bastard out."
The young lady hastened to obey.
"Thank you," said Francis, as soon as he was alone with her in the
garden. "I thank you from my soul. This has been the bitterest
evening of my life, but it will have always one pleasant
"I spoke as I felt," she replied, "and in justice to you. It made
my heart sorry that you should be so unkindly used."
By this time they had reached the garden gate; and Miss Vandeleur,
having set the candle on the ground, was already unfastening the
"One word more," said Francis. "This is not for the last time - I
shall see you again, shall I not?"
"Alas!" she answered. "You have heard my father. What can I do
but obey?"
"Tell me at least that it is not with your consent," returned
Francis; "tell me that you have no wish to see the last of me."
"Indeed," replied she, "I have none. You seem to me both brave and
"Then," said Francis, "give me a keepsake."
She paused for a moment, with her hand upon the key; for the
various bars and bolts were all undone, and there was nothing left
but to open the lock.
"If I agree," she said, "will you promise to do as I tell you from
point to point?"
"Can you ask?" replied Francis. "I would do so willingly on your
bare word."
She turned the key and threw open the door.
"Be it so," said she. "You do not know what you ask, but be it so.
Whatever you hear," she continued, "whatever happens, do not return
to this house; hurry fast until you reach the lighted and populous
quarters of the city; even there be upon your guard. You are in a
greater danger than you fancy. Promise me you will not so much as
look at my keepsake until you are in a place of safety."
"I promise," replied Francis.
She put something loosely wrapped in a handkerchief into the young
man's hand; and at the same time, with more strength than he could
have anticipated, she pushed him into the street.
"Now, run!" she cried.
He heard the door close behind him, and the noise of the bolts
being replaced.
"My faith," said he, "since I have promised!"
And he took to his heels down the lane that leads into the Rue
He was not fifty paces from the house with the green blinds when
the most diabolical outcry suddenly arose out of the stillness of
the night. Mechanically he stood still; another passenger followed
his example; in the neighbouring floors he saw people crowding to
the windows; a conflagration could not have produced more
disturbance in this empty quarter. And yet it seemed to be all the
work of a single man, roaring between grief and rage, like a
lioness robbed of her whelps; and Francis was surprised and alarmed
to hear his own name shouted with English imprecations to the wind.
His first movement was to return to the house; his second, as he
remembered Miss Vandeleur's advice, to continue his flight with
greater expedition than before; and he was in the act of turning to
put his thought in action, when the Dictator, bareheaded, bawling
aloud, his white hair blowing about his head, shot past him like a
ball out of the cannon's mouth, and went careering down the street.
"That was a close shave," thought Francis to himself. "What he
wants with me, and why he should be so disturbed, I cannot think;
but he is plainly not good company for the moment, and I cannot do
better than follow Miss Vandeleur's advice."
So saying, he turned to retrace his steps, thinking to double and
descend by the Rue Lepic itself while his pursuer should continue
to follow after him on the other line of street. The plan was illdevised:
as a matter of fact, he should have taken his seat in the
nearest cafe, and waited there until the first heat of the pursuit
was over. But besides that Francis had no experience and little
natural aptitude for the small war of private life, he was so
unconscious of any evil on his part, that he saw nothing to fear
beyond a disagreeable interview. And to disagreeable interviews he
felt he had already served his apprenticeship that evening; nor
could he suppose that Miss Vandeleur had left anything unsaid.
Indeed, the young man was sore both in body and mind - the one was
all bruised, the other was full of smarting arrows; and he owned to
himself that Mr. Vandeleur was master of a very deadly tongue.
The thought of his bruises reminded him that he had not only come
without a hat, but that his clothes had considerably suffered in
his descent through the chestnut. At the first magazine he
purchased a cheap wideawake, and had the disorder of his toilet
summarily repaired. The keepsake, still rolled in the
handkerchief, he thrust in the meanwhile into his trousers pocket.
Not many steps beyond the shop he was conscious of a sudden shock,
a hand upon his throat, an infuriated face close to his own, and an
open mouth bawling curses in his ear. The Dictator, having found
no trace of his quarry, was returning by the other way. Francis
was a stalwart young fellow; but he was no match for his adversary
whether in strength or skill; and after a few ineffectual struggles
he resigned himself entirely to his captor.
"What do you want with me?" said he.
"We will talk of that at home," returned the Dictator grimly.
And he continued to march the young man up hill in the direction of
the house with the green blinds.
But Francis, although he no longer struggled, was only waiting an
opportunity to make a bold push for freedom. With a sudden jerk he
left the collar of his coat in the hands of Mr. Vandeleur, and once
more made off at his best speed in the direction of the Boulevards.
The tables were now turned. If the Dictator was the stronger,
Francis, in the top of his youth, was the more fleet of foot, and
he had soon effected his escape among the crowds. Relieved for a
moment, but with a growing sentiment of alarm and wonder in his
mind, be walked briskly until he debauched upon the Place de
l'Opera, lit up like day with electric lamps.
"This, at least," thought he, "should satisfy Miss Vandeleur."
And turning to his right along the Boulevards, he entered the Cafe
Americain and ordered some beer. It was both late and early for
the majority of the frequenters of the establishment. Only two or
three persons, all men, were dotted here and there at separate
tables in the hall; and Francis was too much occupied by his own
thoughts to observe their presence.
He drew the handkerchief from his pocket. The object wrapped in it
proved to be a morocco case, clasped and ornamented in gilt, which
opened by means of a spring, and disclosed to the horrified young
man a diamond of monstrous bigness and extraordinary brilliancy.
The circumstance was so inexplicable, the value of the stone was
plainly so enormous, that Francis sat staring into the open casket
without movement, without conscious thought, like a man stricken
suddenly with idiocy.
A hand was laid upon his shoulder, lightly but firmly, and a quiet
voice, which yet had in it the ring of command, uttered these words
in his ear -
"Close the casket, and compose your face."
Looking up, he beheld a man, still young, of an urbane and tranquil
presence, and dressed with rich simplicity. This personage had
risen from a neighbouring table, and, bringing his glass with him,
had taken a seat beside Francis.
"Close the casket," repeated the stranger, "and put it quietly back
into your pocket, where I feel persuaded it should never have been.
Try, if you please, to throw off your bewildered air, and act as
though I were one of your acquaintances whom you had met by chance.
So! Touch glasses with me. That is better. I fear, sir, you must
be an amateur."
And the stranger pronounced these last words with a smile of
peculiar meaning, leaned back in his seat and enjoyed a deep
inhalation of tobacco.
"For God's sake," said Francis, "tell me who you are and what this
means? Why I should obey your most unusual suggestions I am sure I
know not; but the truth is, I have fallen this evening into so many
perplexing adventures, and all I meet conduct themselves so
strangely, that I think I must either have gone mad or wandered
into another planet. Your face inspires me with confidence; you
seem wise, good, and experienced; tell me, for heaven's sake, why
you accost me in so odd a fashion?"
"All in due time," replied the stranger. "But I have the first
hand, and you must begin by telling me how the Rajah's Diamond is
in your possession."
"The Rajah's Diamond!" echoed Francis.
"I would not speak so loud, if I were you," returned the other.
"But most certainly you have the Rajah's Diamond in your pocket. I
have seen and handled it a score of times in Sir Thomas Vandeleur's
"Sir Thomas Vandeleur! The General! My father!" cried Francis.
"Your father?" repeated the stranger. "I was not aware the General
had any family."
"I am illegitimate, sir," replied Francis, with a flush.
The other bowed with gravity. It was a respectful bow, as of a man
silently apologising to his equal; and Francis felt relieved and
comforted, he scarce knew why. The society of this person did him
good; he seemed to touch firm ground; a strong feeling of respect
grew up in his bosom, and mechanically he removed his wideawake as
though in the presence of a superior.
"I perceive," said the stranger, "that your adventures have not all
been peaceful. Your collar is torn, your face is scratched, you
have a cut upon your temple; you will, perhaps, pardon my curiosity
when I ask you to explain how you came by these injuries, and how
you happen to have stolen property to an enormous value in your
"I must differ from you!" returned Francis hotly. "I possess no
stolen property. And if you refer to the diamond, it was given to
me not an hour ago by Miss Vandeleur in the Rue Lepic."
"By Miss Vandeleur of the Rue Lepic!" repeated the other. "You
interest me more than you suppose. Pray continue."
"Heavens!" cried Francis.
His memory had made a sudden bound. He had seen Mr. Vandeleur take
an article from the breast of his drugged visitor, and that
article, he was now persuaded, was a morocco case.
"You have a light?" inquired the stranger.
"Listen," replied Francis. "I know not who you are, but I believe
you to be worthy of confidence and helpful; I find myself in
strange waters; I must have counsel and support, and since you
invite me I shall tell you all."
And he briefly recounted his experiences since the day when he was
summoned from the bank by his lawyer.
"Yours is indeed a remarkable history," said the stranger, after
the young man had made an end of his narrative; "and your position
is full of difficulty and peril. Many would counsel you to seek
out your father, and give the diamond to him; but I have other
views. Waiter!" he cried.
The waiter drew near.
"Will you ask the manager to speak with me a moment?" said he; and
Francis observed once more, both in his tone and manner, the
evidence of a habit of command.
The waiter withdrew, and returned in a moment with manager, who
bowed with obsequious respect.
"What," said he, "can I do to serve you?"
"Have the goodness," replied the stranger, indicating Francis, "to
tell this gentleman my name."
"You have the honour, sir," said the functionary, addressing young
Scrymgeour, "to occupy the same table with His Highness Prince
Florizel of Bohemia."
Francis rose with precipitation, and made a grateful reverence to
the Prince, who bade him resume his seat.
"I thank you," said Florizel, once more addressing the functionary;
"I am sorry to have deranged you for so small a matter."
And he dismissed him with a movement of his hand.
"And now," added the Prince, turning to Francis, "give me the
Without a word the casket was handed over.
"You have done right," said Florizel, "your sentiments have
properly inspired you, and you will live to be grateful for the
misfortunes of to-night. A man, Mr. Scrymgeour, may fall into a
thousand perplexities, but if his heart be upright and his
intelligence unclouded, he will issue from them all without
dishonour. Let your mind be at rest; your affairs are in my hand;
and with the aid of heaven I am strong enough to bring them to a
good end. Follow me, if you please, to my carriage."
So saying the Prince arose and, having left a piece of gold for the
waiter, conducted the young man from the cafe and along the
Boulevard to where an unpretentious brougham and a couple of
servants out of livery awaited his arrival.
"This carriage," said he, "is at your disposal; collect your
baggage as rapidly as you can make it convenient, and my servants
will conduct you to a villa in the neighbourhood of Paris where you
can wait in some degree of comfort until I have had time to arrange
your situation. You will find there a pleasant garden, a library
of good authors, a cook, a cellar, and some good cigars, which I
recommend to your attention. Jerome," he added, turning to one of
the servants, "you have heard what I say; I leave Mr. Scrymgeour in
your charge; you will, I know, be careful of my friend."
Francis uttered some broken phrases of gratitude.
"It will be time enough to thank me," said the Prince, "when you
are acknowledged by your father and married to Miss Vandeleur."
And with that the Prince turned away and strolled leisurely in the
direction of Montmartre. He hailed the first passing cab, gave an
address, and a quarter of an hour afterwards, having discharged the
driver some distance lower, he was knocking at Mr. Vandeleur's
garden gate.
It was opened with singular precautions by the Dictator in person.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"You must pardon me this late visit, Mr. Vandeleur," replied the
"Your Highness is always welcome," returned Mr. Vandeleur, stepping
The Prince profited by the open space, and without waiting for his
host walked right into the house and opened the door of the SALON.
Two people were seated there; one was Miss Vandeleur, who bore the
marks of weeping about her eyes, and was still shaken from time to
time by a sob; in the other the Prince recognised the young man who
had consulted him on literary matters about a month before, in a
club smoking-room.
"Good evening, Miss Vandeleur," said Florizel; "you look fatigued.
Mr. Rolles, I believe? I hope you have profited by the study of
Gaboriau, Mr. Rolles."
But the young clergyman's temper was too much embittered for
speech; and he contented himself with bowing stiffly, and continued
to gnaw his lip.
"To what good wind," said Mr. Vandeleur, following his guest, "am I
to attribute the honour of your Highness's presence?"
"I am come on business," returned the Prince; "on business with
you; as soon as that is settled I shall request Mr. Rolles to
accompany me for a walk. Mr. Rolles," he added with severity, "let
me remind you that I have not yet sat down."
The clergyman sprang to his feet with an apology; whereupon the
Prince took an armchair beside the table, handed his hat to Mr.
Vandeleur, his cane to Mr. Rolles, and, leaving them standing and
thus menially employed upon his service, spoke as follows:-
"I have come here, as I said, upon business; but, had I come
looking for pleasure, I could not have been more displeased with my
reception nor more dissatisfied with my company. You, sir,"
addressing Mr. Rolles, "you have treated your superior in station
with discourtesy; you, Vandeleur, receive me with a smile, but you
know right well that your hands are not yet cleansed from
misconduct. I do not desire to be interrupted, sir," he added
imperiously; "I am here to speak, and not to listen; and I have to
ask you to hear me with respect, and to obey punctiliously. At the
earliest possible date your daughter shall be married at the
Embassy to my friend, Francis Scrymgeour, your brother's
acknowledged son. You will oblige me by offering not less than ten
thousand pounds dowry. For yourself, I will indicate to you in
writing a mission of some importance in Siam which I destine to
your care. And now, sir, you will answer me in two words whether
or not you agree to these conditions."
"Your Highness will pardon me," said Mr. Vandeleur, "and permit me,
with all respect, to submit to him two queries?"
"The permission is granted," replied the Prince.
"Your Highness," resumed the Dictator, "has called Mr. Scrymgeour
his friend. Believe me, had I known he was thus honoured, I should
have treated him with proportional respect."
"You interrogate adroitly," said the Prince; "but it will not serve
your turn. You have my commands; if I had never seen that
gentleman before to-night, it would not render them less absolute."
"Your Highness interprets my meaning with his usual subtlety,"
returned Vandeleur. "Once more: I have, unfortunately, put the
police upon the track of Mr. Scrymgeour on a charge of theft; am I
to withdraw or to uphold the accusation?"
"You will please yourself," replied Florizel. "The question is one
between your conscience and the laws of this land. Give me my hat;
and you, Mr. Rolles, give me my cane and follow me. Miss
Vandeleur, I wish you good evening. I judge," he added to
Vandeleur, "that your silence means unqualified assent."
"If I can do no better," replied the old man, "I shall submit; but
I warn you openly it shall not be without a struggle."
"You are old," said the Prince; "but years are disgraceful to the
wicked. Your age is more unwise than the youth of others. Do not
provoke me, or you may find me harder than you dream. This is the
first time that I have fallen across your path in anger; take care
that it be the last."
With these words, motioning the clergyman to follow, Florizel left
the apartment and directed his steps towards the garden gate; and
the Dictator, following with a candle, gave them light, and once
more undid the elaborate fastenings with which he sought to protect
himself from intrusion.
"Your daughter is no longer present," said the Prince, turning on
the threshold. "Let me tell you that I understand your threats;
and you have only to lift your hand to bring upon yourself sudden
and irremediable ruin."
The Dictator made no reply; but as the Prince turned his back upon
him in the lamplight he made a gesture full of menace and insane
fury; and the next moment, slipping round a corner, he was running
at full speed for the nearest cab-stand.
(Here, says my Arabian, the thread of events is finally diverted
from THE HOUSE WITH THE GREEN BLINDS. One more adventure, he adds,
and we have done with THE RAJAH'S DIAMOND. That last link in the
chain is known among the inhabitants of Bagdad by the name of THE
Prince Florizel walked with Mr. Rolles to the door of a small hotel
where the latter resided. They spoke much together, and the
clergyman was more than once affected to tears by the mingled
severity and tenderness of Florizel's reproaches.
"I have made ruin of my life," he said at last. "Help me; tell me
what I am to do; I have, alas! neither the virtues of a priest nor
the dexterity of a rogue."
"Now that you are humbled," said the Prince, "I command no longer;
the repentant have to do with God and not with princes. But if you
will let me advise you, go to Australia as a colonist, seek menial
labour in the open air, and try to forget that you have ever been a
clergyman, or that you ever set eyes on that accursed stone."
"Accurst indeed!" replied Mr. Rolles. "Where is it now? What
further hurt is it not working for mankind?"
"It will do no more evil," returned the Prince. "It is here in my
pocket. And this," he added kindly, "will show that I place some
faith in your penitence, young as it is."
"Suffer me to touch your hand," pleaded Mr. Rolles.
"No," replied Prince Florizel, "not yet."
The tone in which he uttered these last words was eloquent in the
ears of the young clergyman; and for some minutes after the Prince
had turned away he stood on the threshold following with his eyes
the retreating figure and invoking the blessing of heaven upon a
man so excellent in counsel.
For several hours the Prince walked alone in unfrequented streets.
His mind was full of concern; what to do with the diamond, whether
to return it to its owner, whom he judged unworthy of this rare
possession, or to take some sweeping and courageous measure and put
it out of the reach of all mankind at once and for ever, was a
problem too grave to be decided in a moment. The manner in which
it had come into his hands appeared manifestly providential; and as
he took out the jewel and looked at it under the street lamps, its
size and surprising brilliancy inclined him more and more to think
of it as of an unmixed and dangerous evil for the world.
"God help me!" he thought; "if I look at it much oftener, I shall
begin to grow covetous myself."
At last, though still uncertain in his mind, he turned his steps
towards the small but elegant mansion on the river-side which had
belonged for centuries to his royal family. The arms of Bohemia
are deeply graved over the door and upon the tall chimneys;
passengers have a look into a green court set with the most costly
flowers, and a stork, the only one in Paris, perches on the gable
all day long and keeps a crowd before the house. Grave servants
are seen passing to and fro within; and from time to time the great
gate is thrown open and a carriage rolls below the arch. For many
reasons this residence was especially dear to the heart of Prince
Florizel; he never drew near to it without enjoying that sentiment
of home-coming so rare in the lives of the great; and on the
present evening he beheld its tall roof and mildly illuminated
windows with unfeigned relief and satisfaction.
As he was approaching the postern door by which he always entered
when alone, a man stepped forth from the shadow and presented
himself with an obeisance in the Prince's path.
"I have the honour of addressing Prince Florizel of Bohemia?" said
"Such is my title," replied the Prince. "What do you want with
"I am," said the man, "a detective, and I have to present your
Highness with this billet from the Prefect of Police."
The Prince took the letter and glanced it through by the light of
the street lamp. It was highly apologetic, but requested him to
follow the bearer to the Prefecture without delay.
"In short," said Florizel, "I am arrested."
"Your Highness," replied the officer, "nothing, I am certain, could
be further from the intention of the Prefect. You will observe
that he has not granted a warrant. It is mere formality, or call
it, if you prefer, an obligation that your Highness lays on the
"At the same time," asked the Prince, "if I were to refuse to
follow you?"
"I will not conceal from your Highness that a considerable
discretion has been granted me," replied the detective with a bow.
"Upon my word," cried Florizel, "your effrontery astounds me!
Yourself, as an agent, I must pardon; but your superiors shall
dearly smart for their misconduct. What, have you any idea, is the
cause of this impolitic and unconstitutional act? You will observe
that I have as yet neither refused nor consented, and much may
depend on your prompt and ingenuous answer. Let me remind you,
officer, that this is an affair of some gravity."
"Your Highness," said the detective humbly, "General Vandeleur and
his brother have had the incredible presumption to accuse you of
theft. The famous diamond, they declare, is in your hands. A word
from you in denial will most amply satisfy the Prefect; nay, I go
farther: if your Highness would so far honour a subaltern as to
declare his ignorance of the matter even to myself, I should ask
permission to retire upon the spot."
Florizel, up to the last moment, had regarded his adventure in the
light of a trifle, only serious upon international considerations.
At the name of Vandeleur the horrible truth broke upon him in a
moment; he was not only arrested, but he was guilty. This was not
only an annoying incident - it was a peril to his honour. What was
he to say? What was he to do? The Rajah's Diamond was indeed an
accursed stone; and it seemed as if he were to be the last victim
to its influence.
One thing was certain. He could not give the required assurance to
the detective. He must gain time.
His hesitation had not lasted a second.
"Be it so," said he, "let us walk together to the Prefecture."
The man once more bowed, and proceeded to follow Florizel at a
respectful distance in the rear.
"Approach," said the Prince. "I am in a humour to talk, and, if I
mistake not, now I look at you again, this is not the first time
that we have met."
"I count it an honour," replied the officer, "that your Highness
should recollect my face. It is eight years since I had the
pleasure of an interview."
"To remember faces," returned Florizel, "is as much a part of my
profession as it is of yours. Indeed, rightly looked upon, a
Prince and a detective serve in the same corps. We are both
combatants against crime; only mine is the more lucrative and yours
the more dangerous rank, and there is a sense in which both may be
made equally honourable to a good man. I had rather, strange as
you may think it, be a detective of character and parts than a weak
and ignoble sovereign."
The officer was overwhelmed.
"Your Highness returns good for evil," said he. "To an act of
presumption he replies by the most amiable condescension."
"How do you know," replied Florizel, "that I am not seeking to
corrupt you?"
"Heaven preserve me from the temptation!" cried the detective.
"I applaud your answer," returned the Prince. "It is that of a
wise and honest man. The world is a great place and stocked with
wealth and beauty, and there is no limit to the rewards that may be
offered. Such an one who would refuse a million of money may sell
his honour for an empire or the love of a woman; and I myself, who
speak to you, have seen occasions so tempting, provocations so
irresistible to the strength of human virtue, that I have been glad
to tread in your steps and recommend myself to the grace of God.
It is thus, thanks to that modest and becoming habit alone," he
added, "that you and I can walk this town together with untarnished
"I had always heard that you were brave," replied the officer, "but
I was not aware that you were wise and pious. You speak the truth,
and you speak it with an accent that moves me to the heart. This
world is indeed a place of trial."
"We are now," said Florizel, "in the middle of the bridge. Lean
your elbows on the parapet and look over. As the water rushing
below, so the passions and complications of life carry away the
honesty of weak men. Let me tell you a story."
"I receive your Highness's commands," replied the man.
And, imitating the Prince, he leaned against the parapet, and
disposed himself to listen. The city was already sunk in slumber;
had it not been for the infinity of lights and the outline of
buildings on the starry sky, they might have been alone beside some
country river.
"An officer," began Prince Florizel, "a man of courage and conduct,
who had already risen by merit to an eminent rank, and won not only
admiration but respect, visited, in an unfortunate hour for his
peace of mind, the collections of an Indian Prince. Here he beheld
a diamond so extraordinary for size and beauty that from that
instant he had only one desire in life: honour, reputation,
friendship, the love of country, he was ready to sacrifice all for
this lump of sparkling crystal. For three years he served this
semi-barbarian potentate as Jacob served Laban; he falsified
frontiers, he connived at murders, he unjustly condemned and
executed a brother-officer who had the misfortune to displease the
Rajah by some honest freedoms; lastly, at a time of great danger to
his native land, he betrayed a body of his fellow-soldiers, and
suffered them to be defeated and massacred by thousands. In the
end, he had amassed a magnificent fortune, and brought home with
him the coveted diamond.
"Years passed," continued the Prince, "and at length the diamond is
accidentally lost. It falls into the hands of a simple and
laborious youth, a student, a minister of God, just entering on a
career of usefulness and even distinction. Upon him also the spell
is cast; he deserts everything, his holy calling, his studies, and
flees with the gem into a foreign country. The officer has a
brother, an astute, daring, unscrupulous man, who learns the
clergyman's secret. What does he do? Tell his brother, inform the
police? No; upon this man also the Satanic charm has fallen; he
must have the stone for himself. At the risk of murder, he drugs
the young priest and seizes the prey. And now, by an accident
which is not important to my moral, the jewel passes out of his
custody into that of another, who, terrified at what he sees, gives
it into the keeping of a man in high station and above reproach.
"The officer's name is Thomas Vandeleur," continued Florizel. "The
stone is called the Rajah's Diamond. And" - suddenly opening his
hand - "you behold it here before your eyes."
The officer started back with a cry.
"We have spoken of corruption," said the Prince. "To me this
nugget of bright crystal is as loathsome as though it were crawling
with the worms of death; it is as shocking as though it were
compacted out of innocent blood. I see it here in my hand, and I
know it is shining with hell-fire. I have told you but a hundredth
part of its story; what passed in former ages, to what crimes and
treacheries it incited men of yore, the imagination trembles to
conceive; for years and years it has faithfully served the powers
of hell; enough, I say, of blood, enough of disgrace, enough of
broken lives and friendships; all things come to an end, the evil
like the good; pestilence as well as beautiful music; and as for
this diamond, God forgive me if I do wrong, but its empire ends tonight."
The Prince made a sudden movement with his hand, and the jewel,
describing an arc of light, dived with a splash into the flowing
"Amen," said Florizel with gravity. "I have slain a cockatrice!"
"God pardon me!" cried the detective. "What have you done? I am a
ruined man."
"I think," returned the Prince with a smile, "that many well-to-do
people in this city might envy you your ruin."
"Alas! your Highness!" said the officer, "and you corrupt me after
"It seems there was no help for it," replied Florizel. "And now
let us go forward to the Prefecture."
Not long after, the marriage of Francis Scrymgeour and Miss
Vandeleur was celebrated in great privacy; and the Prince acted on
that occasion as groomsman. The two Vandeleurs surprised some
rumour of what had happened to the diamond; and their vast diving
operations on the River Seine are the wonder and amusement of the
idle. It is true that through some miscalculation they have chosen
the wrong branch of the river. As for the Prince, that sublime
person, having now served his turn, may go, along with the ARABIAN
AUTHOR, topsy-turvy into space. But if the reader insists on more
specific information, I am happy to say that a recent revolution
hurled him from the throne of Bohemia, in consequence of his
continued absence and edifying neglect of public business; and that
his Highness now keeps a cigar store in Rupert Street, much
frequented by other foreign refugees. I go there from time to time
to smoke and have a chat, and find him as great a creature as in
the days of his prosperity; he has an Olympian air behind the
counter; and although a sedentary life is beginning to tell upon
his waistcoat, he is probably, take him for all in all, the
handsomest tobacconist in London.
I was a great solitary when I was young. I made it my pride to
keep aloof and suffice for my own entertainment; and I may say that
I had neither friends nor acquaintances until I met that friend who
became my wife and the mother of my children. With one man only
was I on private terms; this was R. Northmour, Esquire, of Graden
Easter, in Scotland. We had met at college; and though there was
not much liking between us, nor even much intimacy, we were so
nearly of a humour that we could associate with ease to both.
Misanthropes, we believed ourselves to be; but I have thought since
that we were only sulky fellows. It was scarcely a companionship,
but a coexistence in unsociability. Northmour's exceptional
violence of temper made it no easy affair for him to keep the peace
with any one but me; and as he respected my silent ways, and let me
come and go as I pleased, I could tolerate his presence without
concern. I think we called each other friends.
When Northmour took his degree and I decided to leave the
university without one, he invited me on a long visit to Graden
Easter; and it was thus that I first became acquainted with the
scene of my adventures. The mansion-house of Graden stood in a
bleak stretch of country some three miles from the shore of the
German Ocean. It was as large as a barrack; and as it had been
built of a soft stone, liable to consume in the eager air of the
seaside, it was damp and draughty within and half ruinous without.
It was impossible for two young men to lodge with comfort in such a
dwelling. But there stood in the northern part of the estate, in a
wilderness of links and blowing sand-hills, and between a
plantation and the sea, a small Pavilion or Belvidere, of modern
design, which was exactly suited to our wants; and in this
hermitage, speaking little, reading much, and rarely associating
except at meals, Northmour and I spent four tempestuous winter
months. I might have stayed longer; but one March night there
sprang up between us a dispute, which rendered my departure
necessary. Northmour spoke hotly, I remember, and I suppose I must
have made some tart rejoinder. He leaped from his chair and
grappled me; I had to fight, without exaggeration, for my life; and
it was only with a great effort that I mastered him, for he was
near as strong in body as myself, and seemed filled with the devil.
The next morning, we met on our usual terms; but I judged it more
delicate to withdraw; nor did he attempt to dissuade me.
It was nine years before I revisited the neighbourhood. I
travelled at that time with a tilt cart, a tent, and a cookingstove,
tramping all day beside the waggon, and at night, whenever
it was possible, gipsying in a cove of the hills, or by the side of
a wood. I believe I visited in this manner most of the wild and
desolate regions both in England and Scotland; and, as I had
neither friends nor relations, I was troubled with no
correspondence, and had nothing in the nature of headquarters,
unless it was the office of my solicitors, from whom I drew my
income twice a year. It was a life in which I delighted; and I
fully thought to have grown old upon the march, and at last died in
a ditch.
It was my whole business to find desolate corners, where I could
camp without the fear of interruption; and hence, being in another
part of the same shire, I bethought me suddenly of the Pavilion on
the Links. No thoroughfare passed within three miles of it. The
nearest town, and that was but a fisher village, was at a distance
of six or seven. For ten miles of length, and from a depth varying
from three miles to half a mile, this belt of barren country lay
along the sea. The beach, which was the natural approach, was full
of quicksands. Indeed I may say there is hardly a better place of
concealment in the United Kingdom. I determined to pass a week in
the Sea-Wood of Graden Easter, and making a long stage, reached it
about sundown on a wild September day.
The country, I have said, was mixed sand-hill and links; LINKS
being a Scottish name for sand which has ceased drifting and become
more or less solidly covered with turf. The Pavilion stood on an
even space; a little behind it, the wood began in a hedge of elders
huddled together by the wind; in front, a few tumbled sand-hills
stood between it and the sea. An outcropping of rock had formed a
bastion for the sand, so that there was here a promontory in the
coast-line between two shallow bays; and just beyond the tides, the
rock again cropped out and formed an islet of small dimensions but
strikingly designed. The quicksands were of great extent at low
water, and had an infamous reputation in the country. Close in
shore, between the islet and the promontory, it was said they would
swallow a man in four minutes and a half; but there may have been
little ground for this precision. The district was alive with
rabbits, and haunted by gulls which made a continual piping about
the pavilion. On summer days the outlook was bright and even
gladsome; but at sundown in September, with a high wind, and a
heavy surf rolling in close along the links, the place told of
nothing but dead mariners and sea disaster. A ship beating to
windward on the horizon, and a huge truncheon of wreck half buried
in the sands at my feet, completed the innuendo of the scene.
The pavilion - it had been built by the last proprietor,
Northmour's uncle, a silly and prodigal virtuoso - presented little
signs of age. It was two storeys in height, Italian in design,
surrounded by a patch of garden in which nothing had prospered but
a few coarse flowers; and looked, with its shuttered windows, not
like a house that had been deserted, but like one that had never
been tenanted by man. Northmour was plainly from home; whether, as
usual, sulking in the cabin of his yacht, or in one of his fitful
and extravagant appearances in the world of society, I had, of
course, no means of guessing. The place had an air of solitude
that daunted even a solitary like myself; the wind cried in the
chimneys with a strange and wailing note; and it was with a sense
of escape, as if I were going indoors, that I turned away and,
driving my cart before me, entered the skirts of the wood.
The Sea-Wood of Graden had been planted to shelter the cultivated
fields behind, and check the encroachments of the blowing sand. As
you advanced into it from coastward, elders were succeeded by other
hardy shrubs; but the timber was all stunted and bushy; it led a
life of conflict; the trees were accustomed to swing there all
night long in fierce winter tempests; and even in early spring, the
leaves were already flying, and autumn was beginning, in this
exposed plantation. Inland the ground rose into a little hill,
which, along with the islet, served as a sailing mark for seamen.
When the hill was open of the islet to the north, vessels must bear
well to the eastward to clear Graden Ness and the Graden Bullers.
In the lower ground, a streamlet ran among the trees, and, being
dammed with dead leaves and clay of its own carrying, spread out
every here and there, and lay in stagnant pools. One or two ruined
cottages were dotted about the wood; and, according to Northmour,
these were ecclesiastical foundations, and in their time had
sheltered pious hermits.
I found a den, or small hollow, where there was a spring of pure
water; and there, clearing away the brambles, I pitched the tent,
and made a fire to cook my supper. My horse I picketed farther in
the wood where there was a patch of sward. The banks of the den
not only concealed the light of my fire, but sheltered me from the
wind, which was cold as well as high.
The life I was leading made me both hardy and frugal. I never
drank but water, and rarely ate anything more costly than oatmeal;
and I required so little sleep, that, although I rose with the peep
of day, I would often lie long awake in the dark or starry watches
of the night. Thus in Graden Sea-Wood, although I fell thankfully
asleep by eight in the evening I was awake again before eleven with
a full possession of my faculties, and no sense of drowsiness or
fatigue. I rose and sat by the fire, watching the trees and clouds
tumultuously tossing and fleeing overhead, and hearkening to the
wind and the rollers along the shore; till at length, growing weary
of inaction, I quitted the den, and strolled towards the borders of
the wood. A young moon, buried in mist, gave a faint illumination
to my steps; and the light grew brighter as I walked forth into the
links. At the same moment, the wind, smelling salt of the open
ocean and carrying particles of sand, struck me with its full
force, so that I had to bow my head.
When I raised it again to look about me, I was aware of a light in
the pavilion. It was not stationary; but passed from one window to
another, as though some one were reviewing the different apartments
with a lamp or candle.
I watched it for some seconds in great surprise. When I had
arrived in the afternoon the house had been plainly deserted; now
it was as plainly occupied. It was my first idea that a gang of
thieves might have broken in and be now ransacking Northmour's
cupboards, which were many and not ill supplied. But what should
bring thieves to Graden Easter? And, again, all the shutters had
been thrown open, and it would have been more in the character of
such gentry to close them. I dismissed the notion, and fell back
upon another. Northmour himself must have arrived, and was now
airing and inspecting the pavilion.
I have said that there was no real affection between this man and
me; but, had I loved him like a brother, I was then so much more in
love with solitude that I should none the less have shunned his
company. As it was, I turned and ran for it; and it was with
genuine satisfaction that I found myself safely back beside the
fire. I had escaped an acquaintance; I should have one more night
in comfort. In the morning, I might either slip away before
Northmour was abroad, or pay him as short a visit as I chose.
But when morning came, I thought the situation so diverting that I
forgot my shyness. Northmour was at my mercy; I arranged a good
practical jest, though I knew well that my neighbour was not the
man to jest with in security; and, chuckling beforehand over its
success, took my place among the elders at the edge of the wood,
whence I could command the door of the pavilion. The shutters were
all once more closed, which I remember thinking odd; and the house,
with its white walls and green venetians, looked spruce and
habitable in the morning light. Hour after hour passed, and still
no sign of Northmour. I knew him for a sluggard in the morning;
but, as it drew on towards noon, I lost my patience. To say the
truth, I had promised myself to break my fast in the pavilion, and
hunger began to prick me sharply. It was a pity to let the
opportunity go by without some cause for mirth; but the grosser
appetite prevailed, and I relinquished my jest with regret, and
sallied from the wood.
The appearance of the house affected me, as I drew near, with
disquietude. It seemed unchanged since last evening; and I had
expected it, I scarce knew why, to wear some external signs of
habitation. But no: the windows were all closely shuttered, the
chimneys breathed no smoke, and the front door itself was closely
padlocked. Northmour, therefore, had entered by the back; this was
the natural and, indeed, the necessary conclusion; and you may
judge of my surprise when, on turning the house, I found the back
door similarly secured.
My mind at once reverted to the original theory of thieves; and I
blamed myself sharply for my last night's inaction. I examined all
the windows on the lower storey, but none of them had been tampered
with; I tried the padlocks, but they were both secure. It thus
became a problem how the thieves, if thieves they were, had managed
to enter the house. They must have got, I reasoned, upon the roof
of the outhouse where Northmour used to keep his photographic
battery; and from thence, either by the window of the study or that
of my old bedroom, completed their burglarious entry.
I followed what I supposed was their example; and, getting on the
roof, tried the shutters of each room. Both were secure; but I was
not to be beaten; and, with a little force, one of them flew open,
grazing, as it did so, the back of my hand. I remember, I put the
wound to my mouth, and stood for perhaps half a minute licking it
like a dog, and mechanically gazing behind me over the waste links
and the sea; and, in that space of time, my eye made note of a
large schooner yacht some miles to the north-east. Then I threw up
the window and climbed in.
I went over the house, and nothing can express my mystification.
There was no sign of disorder, but, on the contrary, the rooms were
unusually clean and pleasant. I found fires laid, ready for
lighting; three bedrooms prepared with a luxury quite foreign to
Northmour's habits, and with water in the ewers and the beds turned
down; a table set for three in the dining-room; and an ample supply
of cold meats, game, and vegetables on the pantry shelves. There
were guests expected, that was plain; but why guests, when
Northmour hated society? And, above all, why was the house thus
stealthily prepared at dead of night? and why were the shutters
closed and the doors padlocked?
I effaced all traces of my visit, and came forth from the window
feeling sobered and concerned.
The schooner yacht was still in the same place; and it flashed for
a moment through my mind that this might be the RED EARL bringing
the owner of the pavilion and his guests. But the vessel's head
was set the other way.
I returned to the den to cook myself a meal, of which I stood in
great need, as well as to care for my horse, whom I had somewhat
neglected in the morning. From time to time I went down to the
edge of the wood; but there was no change in the pavilion, and not
a human creature was seen all day upon the links. The schooner in
the offing was the one touch of life within my range of vision.
She, apparently with no set object, stood off and on or lay to,
hour after hour; but as the evening deepened, she drew steadily
nearer. I became more convinced that she carried Northmour and his
friends, and that they would probably come ashore after dark; not
only because that was of a piece with the secrecy of the
preparations, but because the tide would not have flowed
sufficiently before eleven to cover Graden Floe and the other sea
quags that fortified the shore against invaders.
All day the wind had been going down, and the sea along with it;
but there was a return towards sunset of the heavy weather of the
day before. The night set in pitch dark. The wind came off the
sea in squalls, like the firing of a battery of cannon; now and
then there was a flaw of rain, and the surf rolled heavier with the
rising tide. I was down at my observatory among the elders, when a
light was run up to the masthead of the schooner, and showed she
was closer in than when I had last seen her by the dying daylight.
I concluded that this must be a signal to Northmour's associates on
shore; and, stepping forth into the links, looked around me for
something in response.
A small footpath ran along the margin of the wood, and formed the
most direct communication between the pavilion and the mansionhouse;
and, as I cast my eyes to that side, I saw a spark of light,
not a quarter of a mile away, and rapidly approaching. From its
uneven course it appeared to be the light of a lantern carried by a
person who followed the windings of the path, and was often
staggered and taken aback by the more violent squalls. I concealed
myself once more among the elders, and waited eagerly for the
newcomer's advance. It proved to be a woman; and, as she passed
within half a rod of my ambush, I was able to recognise the
features. The deaf and silent old dame, who had nursed Northmour
in his childhood, was his associate in this underhand affair.
I followed her at a little distance, taking advantage of the
innumerable heights and hollows, concealed by the darkness, and
favoured not only by the nurse's deafness, but by the uproar of the
wind and surf. She entered the pavilion, and, going at once to the
upper storey, opened and set a light in one of the windows that
looked towards the sea. Immediately afterwards the light at the
schooner's masthead was run down and extinguished. Its purpose had
been attained, and those on board were sure that they were
expected. The old woman resumed her preparations; although the
other shutters remained closed, I could see a glimmer going to and
fro about the house; and a gush of sparks from one chimney after
another soon told me that the fires were being kindled.
Northmour and his guests, I was now persuaded, would come ashore as
soon as there was water on the floe. It was a wild night for boat
service; and I felt some alarm mingle with my curiosity as I
reflected on the danger of the landing. My old acquaintance, it
was true, was the most eccentric of men; but the present
eccentricity was both disquieting and lugubrious to consider. A
variety of feelings thus led me towards the beach, where I lay flat
on my face in a hollow within six feet of the track that led to the
pavilion. Thence, I should have the satisfaction of recognising
the arrivals, and, if they should prove to be acquaintances,
greeting them as soon as they had landed.
Some time before eleven, while the tide was still dangerously low,
a boat's lantern appeared close in shore; and, my attention being
thus awakened, I could perceive another still far to seaward,
violently tossed, and sometimes hidden by the billows. The
weather, which was getting dirtier as the night went on, and the
perilous situation of the yacht upon a lee shore, had probably
driven them to attempt a landing at the earliest possible moment.
A little afterwards, four yachtsmen carrying a very heavy chest,
and guided by a fifth with a lantern, passed close in front of me
as I lay, and were admitted to the pavilion by the nurse. They
returned to the beach, and passed me a second time with another
chest, larger but apparently not so heavy as the first. A third
time they made the transit; and on this occasion one of the
yachtsmen carried a leather portmanteau, and the others a lady's
trunk and carriage bag. My curiosity was sharply excited. If a
woman were among the guests of Northmour, it would show a change in
his habits and an apostasy from his pet theories of life, well
calculated to fill me with surprise. When he and I dwelt there
together, the pavilion had been a temple of misogyny. And now, one
of the detested sex was to be installed under its roof. I
remembered one or two particulars, a few notes of daintiness and
almost of coquetry which had struck me the day before as I surveyed
the preparations in the house; their purpose was now clear, and I
thought myself dull not to have perceived it from the first.
While I was thus reflecting, a second lantern drew near me from the
beach. It was carried by a yachtsman whom I had not yet seen, and
who was conducting two other persons to the pavilion. These two
persons were unquestionably the guests for whom the house was made
ready; and, straining eye and ear, I set myself to watch them as
they passed. One was an unusually tall man, in a travelling hat
slouched over his eyes, and a highland cape closely buttoned and
turned up so as to conceal his face. You could make out no more of
him than that he was, as I have said, unusually tall, and walked
feebly with a heavy stoop. By his side, and either clinging to him
or giving him support - I could not make out which - was a young,
tall, and slender figure of a woman. She was extremely pale; but
in the light of the lantern her face was so marred by strong and
changing shadows, that she might equally well have been as ugly as
sin or as beautiful as I afterwards found her to be.
When they were just abreast of me, the girl made some remark which
was drowned by the noise of the wind.
"Hush!" said her companion; and there was something in the tone
with which the word was uttered that thrilled and rather shook my
spirits. It seemed to breathe from a bosom labouring under the
deadliest terror; I have never heard another syllable so
expressive; and I still hear it again when I am feverish at night,
and my mind runs upon old times. The man turned towards the girl
as he spoke; I had a glimpse of much red beard and a nose which
seemed to have been broken in youth; and his light eyes seemed
shining in his face with some strong and unpleasant emotion.
But these two passed on and were admitted in their turn to the
One by one, or in groups, the seamen returned to the beach. The
wind brought me the sound of a rough voice crying, "Shove off!"
Then, after a pause, another lantern drew near. It was Northmour
My wife and I, a man and a woman, have often agreed to wonder how a
person could be, at the same time, so handsome and so repulsive as
Northmour. He had the appearance of a finished gentleman; his face
bore every mark of intelligence and courage; but you had only to
look at him, even in his most amiable moment, to see that he had
the temper of a slaver captain. I never knew a character that was
both explosive and revengeful to the same degree; he combined the
vivacity of the south with the sustained and deadly hatreds of the
north; and both traits were plainly written on his face, which was
a sort of danger signal. In person he was tall, strong, and
active; his hair and complexion very dark; his features handsomely
designed, but spoiled by a menacing expression.
At that moment he was somewhat paler than by nature; he wore a
heavy frown; and his lips worked, and he looked sharply round him
as he walked, like a man besieged with apprehensions. And yet I
thought he had a look of triumph underlying all, as though he had
already done much, and was near the end of an achievement.
Partly from a scruple of delicacy - which I dare say came too late
- partly from the pleasure of startling an acquaintance, I desired
to make my presence known to him without delay.
I got suddenly to my feet, and stepped forward. "Northmour!" said
I have never had so shocking a surprise in all my days. He leaped
on me without a word; something shone in his hand; and he struck
for my heart with a dagger. At the same moment I knocked him head
over heels. Whether it was my quickness, or his own uncertainty, I
know not; but the blade only grazed my shoulder, while the hilt and
his fist struck me violently on the mouth.
I fled, but not far. I had often and often observed the
capabilities of the sand-hills for protracted ambush or stealthy
advances and retreats; and, not ten yards from the scene of the
scuffle, plumped down again upon the grass. The lantern had fallen
and gone out. But what was my astonishment to see Northmour slip
at a bound into the pavilion, and hear him bar the door behind him
with a clang of iron!
He had not pursued me. He had run away. Northmour, whom I knew
for the most implacable and daring of men, had run away! I could
scarce believe my reason; and yet in this strange business, where
all was incredible, there was nothing to make a work about in an
incredibility more or less. For why was the pavilion secretly
prepared? Why had Northmour landed with his guests at dead of
night, in half a gale of wind, and with the floe scarce covered?
Why had he sought to kill me? Had he not recognised my voice? I
wondered. And, above all, how had he come to have a dagger ready
in his hand? A dagger, or even a sharp knife, seemed out of
keeping with the age in which we lived; and a gentleman landing
from his yacht on the shore of his own estate, even although it was
at night and with some mysterious circumstances, does not usually,
as a matter of fact, walk thus prepared for deadly onslaught. The
more I reflected, the further I felt at sea. I recapitulated the
elements of mystery, counting them on my fingers: the pavilion
secretly prepared for guests; the guests landed at the risk of
their lives and to the imminent peril of the yacht; the guests, or
at least one of them, in undisguised and seemingly causeless
terror; Northmour with a naked weapon; Northmour stabbing his most
intimate acquaintance at a word; last, and not least strange,
Northmour fleeing from the man whom he had sought to murder, and
barricading himself, like a hunted creature, behind the door of the
pavilion. Here were at least six separate causes for extreme
surprise; each part and parcel with the others, and forming all
together one consistent story. I felt almost ashamed to believe my
own senses.
As I thus stood, transfixed with wonder, I began to grow painfully
conscious of the injuries I had received in the scuffle; skulked
round among the sand-hills; and, by a devious path, regained the
shelter of the wood. On the way, the old nurse passed again within
several yards of me, still carrying her lantern, on the return
journey to the mansion-house of Graden. This made a seventh
suspicious feature in the case - Northmour and his guests, it
appeared, were to cook and do the cleaning for themselves, while
the old woman continued to inhabit the big empty barrack among the
policies. There must surely be great cause for secrecy, when so
many inconveniences were confronted to preserve it.
So thinking, I made my way to the den. For greater security, I
trod out the embers of the fire, and lit my lantern to examine the
wound upon my shoulder. It was a trifling hurt, although it bled
somewhat freely, and I dressed it as well as I could (for its
position made it difficult to reach) with some rag and cold water
from the spring. While I was thus busied, I mentally declared war
against Northmour and his mystery. I am not an angry man by
nature, and I believe there was more curiosity than resentment in
my heart. But war I certainly declared; and, by way of
preparation, I got out my revolver, and, having drawn the charges,
cleaned and reloaded it with scrupulous care. Next I became
preoccupied about my horse. It might break loose, or fall to
neighing, and so betray my camp in the Sea-Wood. I determined to
rid myself of its neighbourhood; and long before dawn I was leading
it over the links in the direction of the fisher village.
For two days I skulked round the pavilion, profiting by the uneven
surface of the links. I became an adept in the necessary tactics.
These low hillocks and shallow dells, running one into another,
became a kind of cloak of darkness for my enthralling, but perhaps
dishonourable, pursuit. Yet, in spite of this advantage, I could
learn but little of Northmour or his guests.
Fresh provisions were brought under cover of darkness by the old
woman from the mansion-house. Northmour, and the young lady,
sometimes together, but more often singly, would walk for an hour
or two at a time on the beach beside the quicksand. I could not
but conclude that this promenade was chosen with an eye to secrecy;
for the spot was open only to the seaward. But it suited me not
less excellently; the highest and most accidented of the sand-hills
immediately adjoined; and from these, lying flat in a hollow, I
could overlook Northmour or the young lady as they walked.
The tall man seemed to have disappeared. Not only did he never
cross the threshold, but he never so much as showed face at a
window; or, at least, not so far as I could see; for I dared not
creep forward beyond a certain distance in the day, since the upper
floor commanded the bottoms of the links; and at night, when I
could venture farther, the lower windows were barricaded as if to
stand a siege. Sometimes I thought the tall man must be confined
to bed, for I remembered the feebleness of his gait; and sometimes
I thought he must have gone clear away, and that Northmour and the
young lady remained alone together in the pavilion. The idea, even
then, displeased me.
Whether or not this pair were man and wife, I had seen abundant
reason to doubt the friendliness of their relation. Although I
could hear nothing of what they said, and rarely so much as glean a
decided expression on the face of either, there was a distance,
almost a stiffness, in their bearing which showed them to be either
unfamiliar or at enmity. The girl walked faster when she was with
Northmour than when she was alone; and I conceived that any
inclination between a man and a woman would rather delay than
accelerate the step. Moreover, she kept a good yard free of him,
and trailed her umbrella, as if it were a barrier, on the side
between them. Northmour kept sidling closer; and, as the girl
retired from his advance, their course lay at a sort of diagonal
across the beach, and would have landed them in the surf had it
been long enough continued. But, when this was imminent, the girl
would unostentatiously change sides and put Northmour between her
and the sea. I watched these manoeuvres, for my part, with high
enjoyment and approval, and chuckled to myself at every move.
On the morning of the third day, she walked alone for some time,
and I perceived, to my great concern, that she was more than once
in tears. You will see that my heart was already interested more
than I supposed. She had a firm yet airy motion of the body, and
carried her head with unimaginable grace; every step was a thing to
look at, and she seemed in my eyes to breathe sweetness and
The day was so agreeable, being calm and sunshiny, with a tranquil
sea, and yet with a healthful piquancy and vigour in the air, that,
contrary to custom, she was tempted forth a second time to walk.
On this occasion she was accompanied by Northmour, and they had
been but a short while on the beach, when I saw him take forcible
possession of her hand. She struggled, and uttered a cry that was
almost a scream. I sprang to my feet, unmindful of my strange
position; but, ere I had taken a step, I saw Northmour bareheaded
and bowing very low, as if to apologise; and dropped again at once
into my ambush. A few words were interchanged; and then, with
another bow, he left the beach to return to the pavilion. He
passed not far from me, and I could see him, flushed and lowering,
and cutting savagely with his cane among the grass. It was not
without satisfaction that I recognised my own handiwork in a great
cut under his right eye, and a considerable discolouration round
the socket.
For some time the girl remained where he had left her, looking out
past the islet and over the bright sea. Then with a start, as one
who throws off preoccupation and puts energy again upon its mettle,
she broke into a rapid and decisive walk. She also was much
incensed by what had passed. She had forgotten where she was. And
I beheld her walk straight into the borders of the quicksand where
it is most abrupt and dangerous. Two or three steps farther and
her life would have been in serious jeopardy, when I slid down the
face of the sand-hill, which is there precipitous, and, running
half-way forward, called to her to stop.
She did so, and turned round. There was not a tremor of fear in
her behaviour, and she marched directly up to me like a queen. I
was barefoot, and clad like a common sailor, save for an Egyptian
scarf round my waist; and she probably took me at first for some
one from the fisher village, straying after bait. As for her, when
I thus saw her face to face, her eyes set steadily and imperiously
upon mine, I was filled with admiration and astonishment, and
thought her even more beautiful than I had looked to find her. Nor
could I think enough of one who, acting with so much boldness, yet
preserved a maidenly air that was both quaint and engaging; for my
wife kept an old-fashioned precision of manner through all her
admirable life - an excellent thing in woman, since it sets another
value on her sweet familiarities.
"What does this mean?" she asked.
"You were walking," I told her, "directly into Graden Floe."
"You do not belong to these parts," she said again. "You speak
like an educated man."
"I believe I have right to that name," said I, "although in this
But her woman's eye had already detected the sash. "Oh!" she said;
"your sash betrays you."
"You have said the word BETRAY," I resumed. "May I ask you not to
betray me? I was obliged to disclose myself in your interest; but
if Northmour learned my presence it might be worse than
disagreeable for me."
"Do you know," she asked, "to whom you are speaking?"
"Not to Mr. Northmour's wife?" I asked, by way of answer.
She shook her head. All this while she was studying my face with
an embarrassing intentness. Then she broke out -
"You have an honest face. Be honest like your face, sir, and tell
me what you want and what you are afraid of. Do you think I could
hurt you? I believe you have far more power to injure me! And yet
you do not look unkind. What do you mean - you, a gentleman - by
skulking like a spy about this desolate place? Tell me," she said,
"who is it you hate?"
"I hate no one," I answered; "and I fear no one face to face. My
name is Cassilis - Frank Cassilis. I lead the life of a vagabond
for my own good pleasure. I am one of Northmour's oldest friends;
and three nights ago, when I addressed him on these links, he
stabbed me in the shoulder with a knife."
"It was you!" she said.
"Why he did so," I continued, disregarding the interruption, "is
more than I can guess, and more than I care to know. I have not
many friends, nor am I very susceptible to friendship; but no man
shall drive me from a place by terror. I had camped in Graden Sea-
Wood ere he came; I camp in it still. If you think I mean harm to
you or yours, madam, the remedy is in your hand. Tell him that my
camp is in the Hemlock Den, and to-night he can stab me in safety
while I sleep."
With this I doffed my cap to her, and scrambled up once more among
the sand-hills. I do not know why, but I felt a prodigious sense
of injustice, and felt like a hero and a martyr; while, as a matter
of fact, I had not a word to say in my defence, nor so much as one
plausible reason to offer for my conduct. I had stayed at Graden
out of a curiosity natural enough, but undignified; and though
there was another motive growing in along with the first, it was
not one which, at that period, I could have properly explained to
the lady of my heart.
Certainly, that night, I thought of no one else; and, though her
whole conduct and position seemed suspicious, I could not find it
in my heart to entertain a doubt of her integrity. I could have
staked my life that she was clear of blame, and, though all was
dark at the present, that the explanation of the mystery would show
her part in these events to be both right and needful. It was
true, let me cudgel my imagination as I pleased, that I could
invent no theory of her relations to Northmour; but I felt none the
less sure of my conclusion because it was founded on instinct in
place of reason, and, as I may say, went to sleep that night with
the thought of her under my pillow.
Next day she came out about the same hour alone, and, as soon as
the sand-hills concealed her from the pavilion, drew nearer to the
edge, and called me by name in guarded tones. I was astonished to
observe that she was deadly pale, and seemingly under the influence
of strong emotion.
"Mr. Cassilis!" she cried; "Mr. Cassilis!"
I appeared at once, and leaped down upon the beach. A remarkable
air of relief overspread her countenance as soon as she saw me.
"Oh!" she cried, with a hoarse sound, like one whose bosom has been
lightened of a weight. And then, "Thank God you are still safe!"
she added; "I knew, if you were, you would be here." (Was not this
strange? So swiftly and wisely does Nature prepare our hearts for
these great life-long intimacies, that both my wife and I had been
given a presentiment on this the second day of our acquaintance. I
had even then hoped that she would seek me; she had felt sure that
she would find me.) "Do not," she went, on swiftly, "do not stay
in this place. Promise me that you will sleep no longer in that
wood. You do not know how I suffer; all last night I could not
sleep for thinking of your peril."
"Peril?" I repeated. "Peril from whom? From Northmour?"
"Not so," she said. "Did you think I would tell him after what you
"Not from Northmour?" I repeated. "Then how? From whom? I see
none to be afraid of."
"You must not ask me," was her reply, "for I am not free to tell
you. Only believe me, and go hence - believe me, and go away
quickly, quickly, for your life!"
An appeal to his alarm is never a good plan to rid oneself of a
spirited young man. My obstinacy was but increased by what she
said, and I made it a point of honour to remain. And her
solicitude for my safety still more confirmed me in the resolve.
"You must not think me inquisitive, madam," I replied; "but, if
Graden is so dangerous a place, you yourself perhaps remain here at
some risk."
She only looked at me reproachfully.
"You and your father - " I resumed; but she interrupted me almost
with a gasp.
"My father! How do you know that?" she cried.
"I saw you together when you landed," was my answer; and I do not
know why, but it seemed satisfactory to both of us, as indeed it
was the truth. "But," I continued, "you need have no fear from me.
I see you have some reason to be secret, and, you may believe me,
your secret is as safe with me as if I were in Graden Floe. I have
scarce spoken to any one for years; my horse is my only companion,
and even he, poor beast, is not beside me. You see, then, you may
count on me for silence. So tell me the truth, my dear young lady,
are you not in danger?"
"Mr. Northmour says you are an honourable man," she returned, "and
I believe it when I see you. I will tell you so much; you are
right; we are in dreadful, dreadful danger, and you share it by
remaining where you are."
"Ah!" said I; "you have heard of me from Northmour? And he gives
me a good character?"
"I asked him about you last night," was her reply. "I pretended,"
she hesitated, "I pretended to have met you long ago, and spoken to
you of him. It was not true; but I could not help myself without
betraying you, and you had put me in a difficulty. He praised you
"And - you may permit me one question - does this danger come from
Northmour?" I asked.
"From Mr. Northmour?" she cried. "Oh no; he stays with us to share
"While you propose that I should run away?" I said. "You do not
rate me very high."
"Why should you stay?" she asked. "You are no friend of ours."
I know not what came over me, for I had not been conscious of a
similar weakness since I was a child, but I was so mortified by
this retort that my eyes pricked and filled with tears, as I
continued to gaze upon her face.
"No, no," she said, in a changed voice; "I did not mean the words
"It was I who offended," I said; and I held out my hand with a look
of appeal that somehow touched her, for she gave me hers at once,
and even eagerly. I held it for awhile in mine, and gazed into her
eyes. It was she who first tore her hand away, and, forgetting all
about her request and the promise she had sought to extort, ran at
the top of her speed, and without turning, till she was out of
And then I knew that I loved her, and thought in my glad heart that
she - she herself - was not indifferent to my suit. Many a time
she has denied it in after days, but it was with a smiling and not
a serious denial. For my part, I am sure our hands would not have
lain so closely in each other if she had not begun to melt to me
already. And, when all is said, it is no great contention, since,
by her own avowal, she began to love me on the morrow.
And yet on the morrow very little took place. She came and called
me down as on the day before, upbraided me for lingering at Graden,
and, when she found I was still obdurate, began to ask me more
particularly as to my arrival. I told her by what series of
accidents I had come to witness their disembarkation, and how I had
determined to remain, partly from the interest which had been
wakened in me by Northmour's guests, and partly because of his own
murderous attack. As to the former, I fear I was disingenuous, and
led her to regard herself as having been an attraction to me from
the first moment that I saw her on the links. It relieves my heart
to make this confession even now, when my wife is with God, and
already knows all things, and the honesty of my purpose even in
this; for while she lived, although it often pricked my conscience,
I had never the hardihood to undeceive her. Even a little secret,
in such a married life as ours, is like the rose-leaf which kept
the Princess from her sleep.
From this the talk branched into other subjects, and I told her
much about my lonely and wandering existence; she, for her part,
giving ear, and saying little. Although we spoke very naturally,
and latterly on topics that might seem indifferent, we were both
sweetly agitated. Too soon it was time for her to go; and we
separated, as if by mutual consent, without shaking hands, for both
knew that, between us, it was no idle ceremony.
The next, and that was the fourth day of our acquaintance, we met
in the same spot, but early in the morning, with much familiarity
and yet much timidity on either side. When she had once more
spoken about my danger - and that, I understood, was her excuse for
coming - I, who had prepared a great deal of talk during the night,
began to tell her how highly I valued her kind interest, and how no
one had ever cared to hear about my life, nor had I ever cared to
relate it, before yesterday. Suddenly she interrupted me, saying
with vehemence -
"And yet, if you knew who I was, you would not so much as speak to
I told her such a thought was madness, and, little as we had met, I
counted her already a dear friend; but my protestations seemed only
to make her more desperate.
"My father is in hiding!" she cried.
"My dear," I said, forgetting for the first time to add "young
lady," "what do I care? If he were in hiding twenty times over,
would it make one thought of change in you?"
"Ah, but the cause!" she cried, "the cause! It is - " she faltered
for a second - "it is disgraceful to us!"
This was my wife's story, as I drew it from her among tears and
sobs. Her name was Clara Huddlestone: it sounded very beautiful
in my ears; but not so beautiful as that other name of Clara
Cassilis, which she wore during the longer and, I thank God, the
happier portion of her life. Her father, Bernard Huddlestone, had
been a private banker in a very large way of business. Many years
before, his affairs becoming disordered, he had been led to try
dangerous, and at last criminal, expedients to retrieve himself
from ruin. All was in vain; he became more and more cruelly
involved, and found his honour lost at the same moment with his
fortune. About this period, Northmour had been courting his
daughter with great assiduity, though with small encouragement; and
to him, knowing him thus disposed in his favour, Bernard
Huddlestone turned for help in his extremity. It was not merely
ruin and dishonour, nor merely a legal condemnation, that the
unhappy man had brought upon his head. It seems he could have gone
to prison with a light heart. What he feared, what kept him awake
at night or recalled him from slumber into frenzy, was some secret,
sudden, and unlawful attempt upon his life. Hence, he desired to
bury his existence and escape to one of the islands in the South
Pacific, and it was in Northmour's yacht, the RED EARL, that he
designed to go. The yacht picked them up clandestinely upon the
coast of Wales, and had once more deposited them at Graden, till
she could be refitted and provisioned for the longer voyage. Nor
could Clara doubt that her hand had been stipulated as the price of
passage. For, although Northmour was neither unkind nor even
discourteous, he had shown himself in several instances somewhat
overbold in speech and manner.
I listened, I need not say, with fixed attention, and put many
questions as to the more mysterious part. It was in vain. She had
no clear idea of what the blow was, nor of how it was expected to
fall. Her father's alarm was unfeigned and physically prostrating,
and he had thought more than once of making an unconditional
surrender to the police. But the scheme was finally abandoned, for
he was convinced that not even the strength of our English prisons
could shelter him from his pursuers. He had had many affairs with
Italy, and with Italians resident in London, in the later years of
his business; and these last, as Clara fancied, were somehow
connected with the doom that threatened him. He had shown great
terror at the presence of an Italian seaman on board the RED EARL,
and had bitterly and repeatedly accused Northmour in consequence.
The latter had protested that Beppo (that was the seaman's name)
was a capital fellow, and could be trusted to the death; but Mr.
Huddlestone had continued ever since to declare that all was lost,
that it was only a question of days, and that Beppo would be the
ruin of him yet.
I regarded the whole story as the hallucination of a mind shaken by
calamity. He had suffered heavy loss by his Italian transactions;
and hence the sight of an Italian was hateful to him, and the
principal part in his nightmare would naturally enough be played by
one of that nation.
"What your father wants," I said, "is a good doctor and some
calming medicine."
"But Mr. Northmour?" objected your mother. "He is untroubled by
losses, and yet he shares in this terror."
I could not help laughing at what I considered her simplicity.
"My dear," said I, "you have told me yourself what reward he has to
look for. All is fair in love, you must remember; and if Northmour
foments your father's terrors, it is not at all because he is
afraid of any Italian man, but simply because he is infatuated with
a charming English woman."
She reminded me of his attack upon myself on the night of the
disembarkation, and this I was unable to explain. In short, and
from one thing to another, it was agreed between us, that I should
set out at once for the fisher village, Graden Wester, as it was
called, look up all the newspapers I could find, and see for myself
if there seemed any basis of fact for these continued alarms. The
next morning, at the same hour and place, I was to make my report
to Clara. She said no more on that occasion about my departure;
nor, indeed, did she make it a secret that she clung to the thought
of my proximity as something helpful and pleasant; and, for my
part, I could not have left her, if she had gone upon her knees to
ask it.
I reached Graden Wester before ten in the forenoon; for in those
days I was an excellent pedestrian, and the distance, as I think I
have said, was little over seven miles; fine walking all the way
upon the springy turf. The village is one of the bleakest on that
coast, which is saying much: there is a church in a hollow; a
miserable haven in the rocks, where many boats have been lost as
they returned from fishing; two or three score of stone houses
arranged along the beach and in two streets, one leading from the
harbour, and another striking out from it at right angles; and, at
the corner of these two, a very dark and cheerless tavern, by way
of principal hotel.
I had dressed myself somewhat more suitably to my station in life,
and at once called upon the minister in his little manse beside the
graveyard. He knew me, although it was more than nine years since
we had met; and when I told him that I had been long upon a walking
tour, and was behind with the news, readily lent me an armful of
newspapers, dating from a month back to the day before. With these
I sought the tavern, and, ordering some breakfast, sat down to
study the "Huddlestone Failure."
It had been, it appeared, a very flagrant case. Thousands of
persons were reduced to poverty; and one in particular had blown
out his brains as soon as payment was suspended. It was strange to
myself that, while I read these details, I continued rather to
sympathise with Mr. Huddlestone than with his victims; so complete
already was the empire of my love for my wife. A price was
naturally set upon the banker's head; and, as the case was
inexcusable and the public indignation thoroughly aroused, the
unusual figure of 750 pounds was offered for his capture. He was
reported to have large sums of money in his possession. One day,
he had been heard of in Spain; the next, there was sure
intelligence that he was still lurking between Manchester and
Liverpool, or along the border of Wales; and the day after, a
telegram would announce his arrival in Cuba or Yucatan. But in all
this there was no word of an Italian, nor any sign of mystery.
In the very last paper, however, there was one item not so clear.
The accountants who were charged to verify the failure had, it
seemed, come upon the traces of a very large number of thousands,
which figured for some time in the transactions of the house of
Huddlestone; but which came from nowhere, and disappeared in the
same mysterious fashion. It was only once referred to by name, and
then under the initials "X. X."; but it had plainly been floated
for the first time into the business at a period of great
depression some six years ago. The name of a distinguished Royal
personage had been mentioned by rumour in connection with this sum.
"The cowardly desperado" - such, I remember, was the editorial
expression - was supposed to have escaped with a large part of this
mysterious fund still in his possession.
I was still brooding over the fact, and trying to torture it into
some connection with Mr. Huddlestone's danger, when a man entered
the tavern and asked for some bread and cheese with a decided
foreign accent.
"SI, SIGNOR," was his reply.
I said it was unusually far north to find one of his compatriots;
at which he shrugged his shoulders, and replied that a man would go
anywhere to find work. What work he could hope to find at Graden
Wester, I was totally unable to conceive; and the incident struck
so unpleasantly upon my mind, that I asked the landlord, while he
was counting me some change, whether he had ever before seen an
Italian in the village. He said he had once seen some Norwegians,
who had been shipwrecked on the other side of Graden Ness and
rescued by the lifeboat from Cauldhaven.
"No!" said I; "but an Italian, like the man who has just had bread
and cheese."
"What?" cried he, "yon black-avised fellow wi' the teeth? Was he
an I-talian? Weel, yon's the first that ever I saw, an' I dare say
he's like to be the last."
Even as he was speaking, I raised my eyes, and, casting a glance
into the street, beheld three men in earnest conversation together,
and not thirty yards away. One of them was my recent companion in
the tavern parlour; the other two, by their handsome, sallow
features and soft hats, should evidently belong to the same race.
A crowd of village children stood around them, gesticulating and
talking gibberish in imitation. The trio looked singularly foreign
to the bleak dirty street in which they were standing, and the dark
grey heaven that overspread them; and I confess my incredulity
received at that moment a shock from which it never recovered. I
might reason with myself as I pleased, but I could not argue down
the effect of what I had seen, and I began to share in the Italian
It was already drawing towards the close of the day before I had
returned the newspapers at the manse, and got well forward on to
the links on my way home. I shall never forget that walk. It grew
very cold and boisterous; the wind sang in the short grass about my
feet; thin rain showers came running on the gusts; and an immense
mountain range of clouds began to arise out of the bosom of the
sea. It would be hard to imagine a more dismal evening; and
whether it was from these external influences, or because my nerves
were already affected by what I had heard and seen, my thoughts
were as gloomy as the weather.
The upper windows of the pavilion commanded a considerable spread
of links in the direction of Graden Wester. To avoid observation,
it was necessary to hug the beach until I had gained cover from the
higher sand-hills on the little headland, when I might strike
across, through the hollows, for the margin of the wood. The sun
was about setting; the tide was low, and all the quicksands
uncovered; and I was moving along, lost in unpleasant thought, when
I was suddenly thunderstruck to perceive the prints of human feet.
They ran parallel to my own course, but low down upon the beach
instead of along the border of the turf; and, when I examined them,
I saw at once, by the size and coarseness of the impression, that
it was a stranger to me and to those in the pavilion who had
recently passed that way. Not only so; but from the recklessness
of the course which he had followed, steering near to the most
formidable portions of the sand, he was as evidently a stranger to
the country and to the ill-repute of Graden beach.
Step by step I followed the prints; until, a quarter of a mile
farther, I beheld them die away into the south-eastern boundary of
Graden Floe. There, whoever he was, the miserable man had
perished. One or two gulls, who had, perhaps, seen him disappear,
wheeled over his sepulchre with their usual melancholy piping. The
sun had broken through the clouds by a last effort, and coloured
the wide level of quicksands with a dusky purple. I stood for some
time gazing at the spot, chilled and disheartened by my own
reflections, and with a strong and commanding consciousness of
death. I remember wondering how long the tragedy had taken, and
whether his screams had been audible at the pavilion. And then,
making a strong resolution, I was about to tear myself away, when a
gust fiercer than usual fell upon this quarter of the beach, and I
saw now, whirling high in air, now skimming lightly across the
surface of the sands, a soft, black, felt hat, somewhat conical in
shape, such as I had remarked already on the heads of the Italians.
I believe, but I am not sure, that I uttered a cry. The wind was
driving the hat shoreward, and I ran round the border of the floe
to be ready against its arrival. The gust fell, dropping the hat
for a while upon the quicksand, and then, once more freshening,
landed it a few yards from where I stood. I seized it with the
interest you may imagine. It had seen some service; indeed, it was
rustier than either of those I had seen that day upon the street.
The lining was red, stamped with the name of the maker, which I
have forgotten, and that of the place of manufacture, VENEDIG.
This (it is not yet forgotten) was the name given by the Austrians
to the beautiful city of Venice, then, and for long after, a part
of their dominions.
The shock was complete. I saw imaginary Italians upon every side;
and for the first, and, I may say, for the last time in my
experience, became overpowered by what is called a panic terror. I
knew nothing, that is, to be afraid of, and yet I admit that I was
heartily afraid; and it was with a sensible reluctance that I
returned to my exposed and solitary camp in the Sea-Wood.
There I ate some cold porridge which had been left over from the
night before, for I was disinclined to make a fire; and, feeling
strengthened and reassured, dismissed all these fanciful terrors
from my mind, and lay down to sleep with composure.
How long I may have slept it is impossible for me to guess; but I
was awakened at last by a sudden, blinding flash of light into my
face. It woke me like a blow. In an instant I was upon my knees.
But the light had gone as suddenly as it came. The darkness was
intense. And, as it was blowing great guns from the sea and
pouring with rain, the noises of the storm effectually concealed
all others.
It was, I dare say, half a minute before I regained my selfpossession.
But for two circumstances, I should have thought I had
been awakened by some new and vivid form of nightmare. First, the
flap of my tent, which I had shut carefully when I retired, was now
unfastened; and, second, I could still perceive, with a sharpness
that excluded any theory of hallucination, the smell of hot metal
and of burning oil. The conclusion was obvious. I had been
wakened by some one flashing a bull's-eye lantern in my face. It
had been but a flash, and away. He had seen my face, and then
gone. I asked myself the object of so strange a proceeding, and
the answer came pat. The man, whoever he was, had thought to
recognise me, and he had not. There was yet another question
unresolved; and to this, I may say, I feared to give an answer; if
he had recognised me, what would he have done?
My fears were immediately diverted from myself, for I saw that I
had been visited in a mistake; and I became persuaded that some
dreadful danger threatened the pavilion. It required some nerve to
issue forth into the black and intricate thicket which surrounded
and overhung the den; but I groped my way to the links, drenched
with rain, beaten upon and deafened by the gusts, and fearing at
every step to lay my hand upon some lurking adversary. The
darkness was so complete that I might have been surrounded by an
army and yet none the wiser, and the uproar of the gale so loud
that my hearing was as useless as my sight.
For the rest of that night, which seemed interminably long, I
patrolled the vicinity of the pavilion, without seeing a living
creature or hearing any noise but the concert of the wind, the sea,
and the rain. A light in the upper story filtered through a cranny
of the shutter, and kept me company till the approach of dawn.
With the first peep of day, I retired from the open to my old lair
among the sand-hills, there to await the coming of my wife. The
morning was grey, wild, and melancholy; the wind moderated before
sunrise, and then went about, and blew in puffs from the shore; the
sea began to go down, but the rain still fell without mercy. Over
all the wilderness of links there was not a creature to be seen.
Yet I felt sure the neighbourhood was alive with skulking foes.
The light that had been so suddenly and surprisingly flashed upon
my face as I lay sleeping, and the hat that had been blown ashore
by the wind from over Graden Floe, were two speaking signals of the
peril that environed Clara and the party in the pavilion.
It was, perhaps, half-past seven, or nearer eight, before I saw the
door open, and that dear figure come towards me in the rain. I was
waiting for her on the beach before she had crossed the sand-hills.
"I have had such trouble to come!" she cried. "They did not wish
me to go walking in the rain."
"Clara," I said, "you are not frightened!"
"No," said she, with a simplicity that filled my heart with
confidence. For my wife was the bravest as well as the best of
women; in my experience, I have not found the two go always
together, but with her they did; and she combined the extreme of
fortitude with the most endearing and beautiful virtues.
I told her what had happened; and, though her cheek grew visibly
paler, she retained perfect control over her senses.
"You see now that I am safe," said I, in conclusion. "They do not
mean to harm me; for, had they chosen, I was a dead man last
She laid her hand upon my arm.
"And I had no presentiment!" she cried.
Her accent thrilled me with delight. I put my arm about her, and
strained her to my side; and, before either of us was aware, her
hands were on my shoulders and my lips upon her mouth. Yet up to
that moment no word of love had passed between us. To this day I
remember the touch of her cheek, which was wet and cold with the
rain; and many a time since, when she has been washing her face, I
have kissed it again for the sake of that morning on the beach.
Now that she is taken from me, and I finish my pilgrimage alone, I
recall our old lovingkindnesses and the deep honesty and affection
which united us, and my present loss seems but a trifle in
We may have thus stood for some seconds - for time passes quickly
with lovers - before we were startled by a peal of laughter close
at hand. It was not natural mirth, but seemed to be affected in
order to conceal an angrier feeling. We both turned, though I
still kept my left arm about Clara's waist; nor did she seek to
withdraw herself; and there, a few paces off upon the beach, stood
Northmour, his head lowered, his hands behind his back, his
nostrils white with passion.
"Ah! Cassilis!" he said, as I disclosed my face.
"That same," said I; for I was not at all put about.
"And so, Miss Huddlestone," he continued slowly but savagely, "this
is how you keep your faith to your father and to me? This is the
value you set upon your father's life? And you are so infatuated
with this young gentleman that you must brave ruin, and decency,
and common human caution - "
"Miss Huddlestone - " I was beginning to interrupt him, when he, in
his turn, cut in brutally -
"You hold your tongue," said he; "I am speaking to that girl."
"That girl, as you call her, is my wife," said I; and my wife only
leaned a little nearer, so that I knew she had affirmed my words.
"Your what?" he cried. "You lie!"
"Northmour," I said, "we all know you have a bad temper, and I am
the last man to be irritated by words. For all that, I propose
that you speak lower, for I am convinced that we are not alone."
He looked round him, and it was plain my remark had in some degree
sobered his passion. "What do you mean?" he asked.
I only said one word: "Italians."
He swore a round oath, and looked at us, from one to the other.
"Mr. Cassilis knows all that I know," said my wife.
"What I want to know," he broke out, "is where the devil Mr.
Cassilis comes from, and what the devil Mr. Cassilis is doing here.
You say you are married; that I do not believe. If you were,
Graden Floe would soon divorce you; four minutes and a half,
Cassilis. I keep my private cemetery for my friends."
"It took somewhat longer," said I, "for that Italian."
He looked at me for a moment half daunted, and then, almost
civilly, asked me to tell my story. "You have too much the
advantage of me, Cassilis," he added. I complied of course; and he
listened, with several ejaculations, while I told him how I had
come to Graden: that it was I whom he had tried to murder on the
night of landing; and what I had subsequently seen and heard of the
"Well," said he, when I had done, "it is here at last; there is no
mistake about that. And what, may I ask, do you propose to do?"
"I propose to stay with you and lend a hand," said I.
"You are a brave man," he returned, with a peculiar intonation.
"I am not afraid," said I.
"And so," he continued, "I am to understand that you two are
married? And you stand up to it before my face, Miss Huddlestone?"
"We are not yet married," said Clara; "but we shall be as soon as
we can."
"Bravo!" cried Northmour. "And the bargain? D-n it, you're not a
fool, young woman; I may call a spade a spade with you. How about
the bargain? You know as well as I do what your father's life
depends upon. I have only to put my hands under my coat-tails and
walk away, and his throat would he cut before the evening."
"Yes, Mr. Northmour," returned Clara, with great spirit; "but that
is what you will never do. You made a bargain that was unworthy of
a gentleman; but you are a gentleman for all that, and you will
never desert a man whom you have begun to help."
"Aha!" said he. "You think I will give my yacht for nothing? You
think I will risk my life and liberty for love of the old
gentleman; and then, I suppose, be best man at the wedding, to wind
up? Well," he added, with an odd smile, "perhaps you are not
altogether wrong. But ask Cassilis here. HE knows me. Am I a man
to trust? Am I safe and scrupulous? Am I kind?"
"I know you talk a great deal, and sometimes, I think, very
foolishly," replied Clara, "but I know you are a gentleman, and I
am not the least afraid."
He looked at her with a peculiar approval and admiration; then,
turning to me, "Do you think I would give her up without a
struggle, Frank?" said he. "I tell you plainly, you look out. The
next time we come to blows - "
"Will make the third," I interrupted, smiling.
"Aye, true; so it will," he said. "I had forgotten. Well, the
third time's lucky."
"The third time, you mean, you will have the crew of the RED EARL
to help," I said.
"Do you hear him?" he asked, turning to my wife.
"I hear two men speaking like cowards," said she. "I should
despise myself either to think or speak like that. And neither of
you believe one word that you are saying, which makes it the more
wicked and silly."
"She's a trump!" cried Northmour. "But she's not yet Mrs.
Cassilis. I say no more. The present is not for me." Then my
wife surprised me.
"I leave you here," she said suddenly. "My father has been too
long alone. But remember this: you are to be friends, for you are
both good friends to me."
She has since told me her reason for this step. As long as she
remained, she declares that we two would have continued to quarrel;
and I suppose that she was right, for when she was gone we fell at
once into a sort of confidentiality.
Northmour stared after her as she went away over the sand-hill
"She is the only woman in the world!" he exclaimed with an oath.
"Look at her action."
I, for my part, leaped at this opportunity for a little further
"See here, Northmour," said I; "we are all in a tight place, are we
"I believe you, my boy," he answered, looking me in the eyes, and
with great emphasis. "We have all hell upon us, that's the truth.
You may believe me or not, but I'm afraid of my life."
"Tell me one thing," said I. "What are they after, these Italians?
What do they want with Mr. Huddlestone?"
"Don't you know?" he cried. "The black old scamp had CARBONARO
funds on a deposit - two hundred and eighty thousand; and of course
he gambled it away on stocks. There was to have been a revolution
in the Tridentino, or Parma; but the revolution is off, and the
whole wasp's nest is after Huddlestone. We shall all be lucky if
we can save our skins."
"The CARBONARI!" I exclaimed; "God help him indeed!"
"Amen!" said Northmour. "And now, look here: I have said that we
are in a fix; and, frankly, I shall be glad of your help. If I
can't save Huddlestone, I want at least to save the girl. Come and
stay in the pavilion; and, there's my hand on it, I shall act as
your friend until the old man is either clear or dead. But," he
added, "once that is settled, you become my rival once again, and I
warn you - mind yourself."
"Done!" said I; and we shook hands.
"And now let us go directly to the fort," said Northmour; and he
began to lead the way through the rain.
We were admitted to the pavilion by Clara, and I was surprised by
the completeness and security of the defences. A barricade of
great strength, and yet easy to displace, supported the door
against Any violence from without; and the shutters of the diningroom,
into which I was led directly, and which was feebly
illuminated by a lamp, were even more elaborately fortified. The
panels were strengthened by bars and cross-bars; and these, in
their turn, were kept in position by a system of braces and struts,
some abutting on the floor, some on the roof, and others, in fine,
against the opposite wall of the apartment. It was at once a solid
and well-designed piece of carpentry; and I did not seek to conceal
my admiration.
"I am the engineer," said Northmour. "You remember the planks in
the garden? Behold them?"
"I did not know you had so many talents," said I.
"Are you armed?" he continued, pointing to an array of guns and
pistols, all in admirable order, which stood in line against the
wall or were displayed upon the sideboard.
"Thank you," I returned; "I have gone armed since our last
encounter. But, to tell you the truth, I have had nothing to eat
since early yesterday evening."
Northmour produced some cold meat, to which I eagerly set myself,
and a bottle of good Burgundy, by which, wet as I was, I did not
scruple to profit. I have always been an extreme temperance man on
principle; but it is useless to push principle to excess, and on
this occasion I believe that I finished three-quarters of the
bottle. As I ate, I still continued to admire the preparations for
"We could stand a siege," I said at length.
"Ye-es," drawled Northmour; "a very little one, per-haps. It is
not so much the strength of the pavilion I misdoubt; it is the
doubled anger that kills me. If we get to shooting, wild as the
country is some one is sure to hear it, and then - why then it's
the same thing, only different, as they say: caged by law, or
killed by CARBONARI. There's the choice. It is a devilish bad
thing to have the law against you in this world, and so I tell the
old gentleman upstairs. He is quite of my way of thinking."
"Speaking of that," said I, "what kind of person is he?"
"Oh, he!" cried the other; "he's a rancid fellow, as far as he
goes. I should like to have his neck wrung to-morrow by all the
devils in Italy. I am not in this affair for him. You take me? I
made a bargain for Missy's hand, and I mean to have it too."
"That by the way," said I. "I understand. But how will Mr.
Huddlestone take my intrusion?"
"Leave that to Clara," returned Northmour.
I could have struck him in the face for this coarse familiarity;
but I respected the truce, as, I am bound to say, did Northmour,
and so long as the danger continued not a cloud arose in our
relation. I bear him this testimony with the most unfeigned
satisfaction; nor am I without pride when I look back upon my own
behaviour. For surely no two men were ever left in a position so
invidious and irritating.
As soon as I had done eating, we proceeded to inspect the lower
floor. Window by window we tried the different supports, now and
then making an inconsiderable change; and the strokes of the hammer
sounded with startling loudness through the house. I proposed, I
remember, to make loop-holes; but he told me they were already made
in the windows of the upper story. It was an anxious business this
inspection, and left me down-hearted. There were two doors and
five windows to protect, and, counting Clara, only four of us to
defend them against an unknown number of foes. I communicated my
doubts to Northmour, who assured me, with unmoved composure, that
he entirely shared them.
"Before morning," said he, "we shall all be butchered and buried in
Graden Floe. For me, that is written."
I could not help shuddering at the mention of the quicksand, but
reminded Northmour that our enemies had spared me in the wood.
"Do not flatter yourself," said he. "Then you were not in the same
boat with the old gentleman; now you are. It's the floe for all of
us, mark my words."
I trembled for Clara; and just then her dear voice was heard
calling us to come upstairs. Northmour showed me the way, and,
when he had reached the landing, knocked at the door of what used
to be called MY UNCLE'S BEDROOM, as the founder of the pavilion had
designed it especially for himself.
"Come in, Northmour; come in, dear Mr. Cassilis," said a voice from
Pushing open the door, Northmour admitted me before him into the
apartment. As I came in I could see the daughter slipping out by
the side door into the study, which had been prepared as her
bedroom. In the bed, which was drawn back against the wall,
instead of standing, as I had last seen it, boldly across the
window, sat Bernard Huddlestone, the defaulting banker. Little as
I had seen of him by the shifting light of the lantern on the
links, I had no difficulty in recognising him for the same. He had
a long and sallow countenance, surrounded by a long red beard and
side whiskers. His broken nose and high cheekbones gave him
somewhat the air of a Kalmuck, and his light eyes shone with the
excitement of a high fever. He wore a skull-cap of black silk; a
huge Bible lay open before him on the bed, with a pair of gold
spectacles in the place, and a pile of other books lay on the stand
by his side. The green curtains lent a cadaverous shade to his
cheek; and, as he sat propped on pillows, his great stature was
painfully hunched, and his head protruded till it overhung his
knees. I believe if he had not died otherwise, he must have fallen
a victim to consumption in the course of but a very few weeks.
He held out to me a hand, long, thin, and disagreeably hairy.
"Come in, come in, Mr. Cassilis," said he. "Another protector -
ahem! - another protector. Always welcome as a friend of my
daughter's, Mr. Cassilis. How they have rallied about me, my
daughter's friends! May God in heaven bless and reward them for
I gave him my hand, of course, because I could not help it; but the
sympathy I had been prepared to feel for Clara's father was
immediately soured by his appearance, and the wheedling, unreal
tones in which he spoke.
"Cassilis is a good man," said Northmour; "worth ten."
"So I hear," cried Mr. Huddlestone eagerly "so my girl tells me.
Ah, Mr. Cassilis, my sin has found me out, you see! I am very low,
very low; but I hope equally penitent. We must all come to the
throne of grace at last, Mr. Cassilis. For my part, I come late
indeed; but with unfeigned humility, I trust."
"Fiddle-de-dee!" said Northmour roughly.
"No, no, dear Northmour!" cried the banker. "You must not say
that; you must not try to shake me. You forget, my dear, good boy,
you forget I may be called this very night before my Maker."
His excitement was pitiful to behold; and I felt myself grow
indignant with Northmour, whose infidel opinions I well knew, and
heartily derided, as he continued to taunt the poor sinner out of
his humour of repentance.
"Pooh, my dear Huddlestone!" said he. "You do yourself injustice.
You are a man of the world inside and out, and were up to all kinds
of mischief before I was born. Your conscience is tanned like
South American leather - only you forgot to tan your liver, and
that, if you will believe me, is the seat of the annoyance."
"Rogue, rogue! bad boy!" said Mr. Huddlestone, shaking his finger.
"I am no precisian, if you come to that; I always hated a
precisian; but I never lost hold of something better through it
all. I have been a bad boy, Mr. Cassilis; I do not seek to deny
that; but it was after my wife's death, and you know, with a
widower, it's a different thing: sinful - I won't say no; but
there is a gradation, we shall hope. And talking of that - Hark!"
he broke out suddenly, his hand raised, his fingers spread, his
face racked with interest and terror. "Only the rain, bless God!"
he added, after a pause, and with indescribable relief.
For some seconds he lay back among the pillows like a man near to
fainting; then he gathered himself together, and, in somewhat
tremulous tones, began once more to thank me for the share I was
prepared to take in his defence.
"One question, sir," said I, when he had paused. "Is it true that
you have money with you?"
He seemed annoyed by the question, but admitted with reluctance
that he had a little.
"Well," I continued, "it is their money they are after, is it not?
Why not give it up to them?"
"Ah!" replied he, shaking his head, "I have tried that already, Mr.
Cassilis; and alas that it should be so! but it is blood they
"Huddlestone, that's a little less than fair," said Northmour.
"You should mention that what you offered them was upwards of two
hundred thousand short. The deficit is worth a reference; it is
for what they call a cool sum, Frank. Then, you see, the fellows
reason in their clear Italian way; and it seems to them, as indeed
it seems to me, that they may just as well have both while they're
about it - money and blood together, by George, and no more trouble
for the extra pleasure."
"Is it in the pavilion?" I asked.
"It is; and I wish it were in the bottom of the sea instead," said
Northmour; and then suddenly - "What are you making faces at me
for?" he cried to Mr. Huddlestone, on whom I had unconsciously
turned my back. "Do you think Cassilis would sell you?"
Mr. Huddlestone protested that nothing had been further from his
"It is a good thing," retorted Northmour in his ugliest manner.
"You might end by wearying us. What were you going to say?" he
added, turning to me.
"I was going to propose an occupation for the afternoon,'' said I.
"Let us carry that money out, piece by piece, and lay it down
before the pavilion door. If the CARBONARI come, why, it's theirs
at any rate."
"No, no," cried Mr. Huddlestone; "it does not, it cannot belong to
them! It should be distributed PRO RATA among all my creditors."
"Come now, Huddlestone," said Northmour, "none of that."
"Well, but my daughter," moaned the wretched man.
"Your daughter will do well enough. Here are two suitors, Cassilis
and I, neither of us beggars, between whom she has to choose. And
as for yourself, to make an end of arguments, you have no right to
a farthing, and, unless I'm much mistaken, you are going to die."
It was certainly very cruelly said; but Mr. Huddlestone was a man
who attracted little sympathy; and, although I saw him wince and
shudder, I mentally endorsed the rebuke; nay, I added a
contribution of my own.
"Northmour and I," I said, "are willing enough to help you to save
your life, but not to escape with stolen property."
He struggled for a while with himself, as though he were on the
point of giving way to anger, but prudence had the best of the
"My dear boys," he said, "do with me or my money what you will. I
leave all in your hands. Let me compose myself."
And so we left him, gladly enough I am sure. The last that I saw,
he had once more taken up his great Bible, and with tremulous hands
was adjusting his spectacles to read.
The recollection of that afternoon will always be graven on my
mind. Northmour and I were persuaded that an attack was imminent;
and if it had been in our power to alter in any way the order of
events, that power would have been used to precipitate rather than
delay the critical moment. The worst was to be anticipated; yet we
could conceive no extremity so miserable as the suspense we were
now suffering. I have never been an eager, though always a great,
reader; but I never knew books so insipid as those which I took up
and cast aside that afternoon in the pavilion. Even talk became
impossible, as the hours went on. One or other was always
listening for some sound, or peering from an upstairs window over
the links. And yet not a sign indicated the presence of our foes.
We debated over and over again my proposal with regard to the
money; and had we been in complete possession of our faculties, I
am sure we should have condemned it as unwise; but we were
flustered with alarm, grasped at a straw, and determined, although
it was as much as advertising Mr. Huddlestone's presence in the
pavilion, to carry my proposal into effect.
The sum was part in specie, part in bank paper, and part in
circular notes payable to the name of James Gregory. We took it
out, counted it, enclosed it once more in a despatch-box belonging
to Northmour, and prepared a letter in Italian which he tied to the
handle. It was signed by both of us under oath, and declared that
this was all the money which had escaped the failure of the house
of Huddlestone. This was, perhaps, the maddest action ever
perpetrated by two persons professing to be sane. Had the
despatch-box fallen into other hands than those for which it was
intended, we stood criminally convicted on our own written
testimony; but, as I have said, we were neither of us in a
condition to judge soberly, and had a thirst for action that drove
us to do something, right or wrong, rather than endure the agony of
waiting. Moreover, as we were both convinced that the hollows of
the links were alive with hidden spies upon our movements, we hoped
that our appearance with the box might lead to a parley, and,
perhaps, a compromise.
It was nearly three when we issued from the pavilion. The rain had
taken off; the sun shone quite cheerfully.
I have never seen the gulls fly so close about the house or
approach so fearlessly to human beings. On the very doorstep one
flapped heavily past our heads, and uttered its wild cry in my very
"There is an omen for you," said Northmour, who like all
freethinkers was much under the influence of superstition. "They
think we are already dead."
I made some light rejoinder, but it was with half my heart; for the
circumstance had impressed me.
A yard or two before the gate, on a patch of smooth turf, we set
down the despatch-box; and Northmour waved a white handkerchief
over his head. Nothing replied. We raised our voices, and cried
aloud in Italian that we were there as ambassadors to arrange the
quarrel; but the stillness remained unbroken save by the sea-gulls
and the surf. I had a weight at my heart when we desisted; and I
saw that even Northmour was unusually pale. He looked over his
shoulder nervously, as though he feared that some one had crept
between him and the pavilion door.
"By God," he said in a whisper, "this is too much for me!"
I replied in the same key: "Suppose there should be none, after
"Look there," he returned, nodding with his head, as though he had
been afraid to point.
I glanced in the direction indicated; and there, from the northern
quarter of the Sea-Wood, beheld a thin column of smoke rising
steadily against the now cloudless sky.
"Northmour," I said (we still continued to talk in whispers), "it
is not possible to endure this suspense. I prefer death fifty
times over. Stay you here to watch the pavilion; I will go forward
and make sure, if I have to walk right into their camp."
He looked once again all round him with puckered eyes, and then
nodded assentingly to my proposal.
My heart beat like a sledge-hammer as I set out walking rapidly in
the direction of the smoke; and, though up to that moment I had
felt chill and shivering, I was suddenly conscious of a glow of
heat over all my body. The ground in this direction was very
uneven; a hundred men might have lain hidden in as many square
yards about my path. But I had not practised the business in vain,
chose such routes as cut at the very root of concealment, and, by
keeping along the most convenient ridges, commanded several hollows
at a time. It was not long before I was rewarded for my caution.
Coming suddenly on to a mound somewhat more elevated than the
surrounding hummocks, I saw, not thirty yards away, a man bent
almost double, and running as fast as his attitude permitted, along
the bottom of a gully. I had dislodged one of the spies from his
ambush. As soon as I sighted him, I called loudly both in English
and Italian; and he, seeing concealment was no longer possible,
straightened himself out, leaped from the gully, and made off as
straight as an arrow for the borders of the wood.
It was none of my business to pursue; I had learned what I wanted -
that we were beleaguered and watched in the pavilion; and I
returned at once, and walking as nearly as possible in my old
footsteps, to where Northmour awaited me beside the despatch-box.
He was even paler than when I had left him, and his voice shook a
"Could you see what he was like?" he asked.
"He kept his back turned," I replied.
"Let us get into the house, Frank. I don't think I'm a coward, but
I can stand no more of this," he whispered.
All was still and sunshiny about the pavilion as we turned to reenter
it; even the gulls had flown in a wider circuit, and were
seen flickering along the beach and sand-hills; and this loneliness
terrified me more than a regiment under arms. It was not until the
door was barricaded that I could draw a full inspiration and
relieve the weight that lay upon my bosom. Northmour and I
exchanged a steady glance; and I suppose each made his own
reflections on the white and startled aspect of the other.
"You were right," I said. "All is over. Shake hands, old man, for
the last time."
"Yes," replied he, "I will shake hands; for, as sure as I am here,
I bear no malice. But, remember, if, by some impossible accident,
we should give the slip to these blackguards, I'll take the upper
hand of you by fair or foul."
"Oh," said I, "you weary me!"
He seemed hurt, and walked away in silence to the foot of the
stairs, where he paused.
"You do not understand," said he. "I am not a swindler, and I
guard myself; that is all. It may weary you or not, Mr. Cassilis,
I do not care a rush; I speak for my own satisfaction, and not for
your amusement. You had better go upstairs and court the girl; for
my part, I stay here."
"And I stay with you," I returned. "Do you think I would steal a
march, even with your permission?"
"Frank," he said, smiling, "it's a pity you are an ass, for you
have the makings of a man. I think I must be FEY to-day; you
cannot irritate me even when you try. Do you know," he continued
softly, "I think we are the two most miserable men in England, you
and I? we have got on to thirty without wife or child, or so much
as a shop to look after - poor, pitiful, lost devils, both! And
now we clash about a girl! As if there were not several millions
in the United Kingdom! Ah, Frank, Frank, the one who loses this
throw, be it you or me, he has my pity! It were better for him -
how does the Bible say? - that a millstone were hanged about his
neck and he were cast into the depth of the sea. Let us take a
drink," he concluded suddenly, but without any levity of tone.
I was touched by his words, and consented. He sat down on the
table in the dining-room, and held up the glass of sherry to his
"If you beat me, Frank," he said, "I shall take to drink. What
will you do, if it goes the other way?"
"God knows," I returned.
"Well," said he, "here is a toast in the meantime: 'ITALIA
The remainder of the day was passed in the same dreadful tedium and
suspense. I laid the table for dinner, while Northmour and Clara
prepared the meal together in the kitchen. I could hear their talk
as I went to and fro, and was surprised to find it ran all the time
upon myself. Northmour again bracketed us together, and rallied
Clara on a choice of husbands; but he continued to speak of me with
some feeling, and uttered nothing to my prejudice unless he
included himself in the condemnation. This awakened a sense of
gratitude in my heart, which combined with the immediateness of our
peril to fill my eyes with tears. After all, I thought - and
perhaps the thought was laughably vain - we were here three very
noble human beings to perish in defence of a thieving banker.
Before we sat down to table, I looked forth from an upstairs
window. The day was beginning to decline; the links were utterly
deserted; the despatch-box still lay untouched where we had left it
hours before.
Mr. Huddlestone, in a long yellow dressing-gown, took one end of
the table, Clara the other; while Northmour and I faced each other
from the sides. The lamp was brightly trimmed; the wine was good;
the viands, although mostly cold, excellent of their sort. We
seemed to have agreed tacitly; all reference to the impending
catastrophe was carefully avoided; and, considering our tragic
circumstances, we made a merrier party than could have been
expected. From time to time, it is true, Northmour or I would rise
from table and make a round of the defences; and, on each of these
occasions, Mr. Huddlestone was recalled to a sense of his tragic
predicament, glanced up with ghastly eyes, and bore for an instant
on his countenance the stamp of terror. But he hastened to empty
his glass, wiped his forehead with his handkerchief, and joined
again in the conversation.
I was astonished at the wit and information he displayed. Mr.
Huddlestone's was certainly no ordinary character; he had read and
observed for himself; his gifts were sound; and, though I could
never have learned to love the man, I began to understand his
success in business, and the great respect in which he had been
held before his failure. He had, above all, the talent of society;
and though I never heard him speak but on this one and most
unfavourable occasion, I set him down among the most brilliant
conversationalists I ever met.
He was relating with great gusto, and seemingly no feeling of
shame, the manoeuvres of a scoundrelly commission merchant whom he
had known and studied in his youth, and we were all listening with
an odd mixture of mirth and embarrassment when our little party was
brought abruptly to an end in the most startling manner.
A noise like that of a wet finger on the window-pane interrupted
Mr. Huddlestone's tale; and in an instant we were all four as white
as paper, and sat tongue-tied and motionless round the table.
"A snail," I said at last; for I had heard that these animals make
a noise somewhat similar in character.
"Snail be d-d!" said Northmour. "Hush!"
The same sound was repeated twice at regular intervals; and then a
formidable voice shouted through the shutters the Italian word
Mr. Huddlestone threw his head in the air; his eyelids quivered;
next moment he fell insensible below the table. Northmour and I
had each run to the armoury and seized a gun. Clara was on her
feet with her hand at her throat.
So we stood waiting, for we thought the hour of attack was
certainly come; but second passed after second, and all but the
surf remained silent in the neighbourhood of the pavilion.
"Quick," said Northmour; "upstairs with him before they come."
Somehow or other, by hook and crook, and between the three of us,
we got Bernard Huddlestone bundled upstairs and laid upon the bed
in MY UNCLE'S ROOM. During the whole process, which was rough
enough, he gave no sign of consciousness, and he remained, as we
had thrown him, without changing the position of a finger. His
daughter opened his shirt and began to wet his head and bosom;
while Northmour and I ran to the window. The weather continued
clear; the moon, which was now about full, had risen and shed a
very clear light upon the links; yet, strain our eyes as we might,
we could distinguish nothing moving. A few dark spots, more or
less, on the uneven expanse were not to be identified; they might
be crouching men, they might be shadows; it was impossible to be
"Thank God," said Northmour, "Aggie is not coming to-night."
Aggie was the name of the old nurse; he had not thought of her till
now; but that he should think of her at all, was a trait that
surprised me in the man.
We were again reduced to waiting. Northmour went to the fireplace
and spread his hands before the red embers, as if he were cold. I
followed him mechanically with my eyes, and in so doing turned my
back upon the window. At that moment a very faint report was
audible from without, and a ball shivered a pane of glass, and
buried itself in the shutter two inches from my head. I heard
Clara scream; and though I whipped instantly out of range and into
a corner, she was there, so to speak, before me, beseeching to know
if I were hurt. I felt that I could stand to be shot at every day
and all day long, with such marks of solicitude for a reward; and I
continued to reassure her, with the tenderest caresses and in
complete forgetfulness of our situation, till the voice of
Northmour recalled me to myself.
"An air-gun," he said. "They wish to make no noise."
I put Clara aside, and looked at him. He was standing with his
back to the fire and his hands clasped behind him; and I knew by
the black look on his face, that passion was boiling within. I had
seen just such a look before he attacked me, that March night, in
the adjoining chamber; and, though I could make every allowance for
his anger, I confess I trembled for the consequences. He gazed
straight before him; but he could see us with the tail of his eye,
and his temper kept rising like a gale of wind. With regular
battle awaiting us outside, this prospect of an internecine strife
within the walls began to daunt me.
Suddenly, as I was thus closely watching his expression and
prepared against the worst, I saw a change, a flash, a look of
relief, upon his face. He took up the lamp which stood beside him
on the table, and turned to us with an air of some excitement.
"There is one point that we must know," said he. "Are they going
to butcher the lot of us, or only Huddlestone? Did they take you
for him, or fire at you for your own BEAUX YEUX?"
"They took me for him, for certain," I replied. "I am near as
tall, and my head is fair."
"I am going to make sure," returned Northmour; and he stepped up to
the window, holding the lamp above his head, and stood there,
quietly affronting death, for half a minute.
Clara sought to rush forward and pull him from the place of danger;
but I had the pardonable selfishness to hold her back by force.
"Yes," said Northmour, turning coolly from the window; "it's only
Huddlestone they want."
"Oh, Mr. Northmour!" cried Clara; but found no more to add; the
temerity she had just witnessed seeming beyond the reach of words.
He, on his part, looked at me, cocking his head, with a fire of
triumph in his eyes; and I understood at once that he had thus
hazarded his life, merely to attract Clara's notice, and depose me
from my position as the hero of the hour. He snapped his fingers.
"The fire is only beginning," said he. "When they warm up to their
work, they won't be so particular."
A voice was now heard hailing us from the entrance. From the
window we could see the figure of a man in the moonlight; he stood
motionless, his face uplifted to ours, and a rag of something white
on his extended arm; and as we looked right down upon him, though
he was a good many yards distant on the links, we could see the
moonlight glitter on his eyes.
He opened his lips again, and spoke for some minutes on end, in a
key so loud that he might have been heard in every corner of the
pavilion, and as far away as the borders of the wood. It was the
same voice that had already shouted "TRADITORE!" through the
shutters of the dining-room; this time it made a complete and clear
statement. If the traitor "Oddlestone" were given up, all others
should be spared; if not, no one should escape to tell the tale.
"Well, Huddlestone, what do you say to that?" asked Northmour,
turning to the bed.
Up to that moment the banker had given no sign of life, and I, at
least, had supposed him to be still lying in a faint; but he
replied at once, and in such tones as I have never heard elsewhere,
save from a delirious patient, adjured and besought us not to
desert him. It was the most hideous and abject performance that my
imagination can conceive.
"Enough," cried Northmour; and then he threw open the window,
leaned out into the night, and in a tone of exultation, and with a
total forgetfulness of what was due to the presence of a lady,
poured out upon the ambassador a string of the most abominable
raillery both in English and Italian, and bade him be gone where he
had come from. I believe that nothing so delighted Northmour at
that moment as the thought that we must all infallibly perish
before the night was out.
Meantime the Italian put his flag of truce into his pocket, and
disappeared, at a leisurely pace, among the sand-hills.
"They make honourable war," said Northmour. "They are all
gentlemen and soldiers. For the credit of the thing, I wish we
could change sides - you and I, Frank, and you too, Missy, my
darling - and leave that being on the bed to some one else. Tut!
Don't look shocked! We are all going post to what they call
eternity, and may as well be above-board while there's time. As
far as I'm concerned, if I could first strangle Huddlestone and
then get Clara in my arms, I could die with some pride and
satisfaction. And as it is, by God, I'll have a kiss!"
Before I could do anything to interfere, he had rudely embraced and
repeatedly kissed the resisting girl. Next moment I had pulled him
away with fury, and flung him heavily against the wall. He laughed
loud and long, and I feared his wits had given way under the
strain; for even in the best of days he had been a sparing and a
quiet laugher.
"Now, Frank," said he, when his mirth was somewhat appeased, "it's
your turn. Here's my hand. Good-bye; farewell!" Then, seeing me
stand rigid and indignant, and holding Clara to my side - "Man!" he
broke out, "are you angry? Did you think we were going to die with
all the airs and graces of society? I took a kiss; I'm glad I had
it; and now you can take another if you like, and square accounts."
I turned from him with a feeling of contempt which I did not seek
to dissemble.
"As you please," said he. "You've been a prig in life; a prig
you'll die."
And with that he sat down in a chair, a rifle over his knee, and
amused himself with snapping the lock; but I could see that his
ebullition of light spirits (the only one I ever knew him to
display) had already come to an end, and was succeeded by a sullen,
scowling humour.
All this time our assailants might have been entering the house,
and we been none the wiser; we had in truth almost forgotten the
danger that so imminently overhung our days. But just then Mr.
Huddlestone uttered a cry, and leaped from the bed.
I asked him what was wrong.
"Fire!" he cried. "They have set the house on fire!"
Northmour was on his feet in an instant, and he and I ran through
the door of communication with the study. The room was illuminated
by a red and angry light. Almost at the moment of our entrance, a
tower of flame arose in front of the window, and, with a tingling
report, a pane fell inwards on the carpet. They had set fire to
the lean-to outhouse, where Northmour used to nurse his negatives.
"Hot work," said Northmour. "Let us try in your old room."
We ran thither in a breath, threw up the casement, and looked
forth. Along the whole back wall of the pavilion piles of fuel had
been arranged and kindled; and it is probable they had been
drenched with mineral oil, for, in spite of the morning's rain,
they all burned bravely. The fire had taken a firm hold already on
the outhouse, which blazed higher and higher every moment; the back
door was in the centre of a red-hot bonfire; the eaves we could
see, as we looked upward, were already smouldering, for the roof
overhung, and was supported by considerable beams of wood. At the
same time, hot, pungent, and choking volumes of smoke began to fill
the house. There was not a human being to be seen to right or
"Ah, well!" said Northmour, "here's the end, thank God."
And we returned to MY UNCLE'S ROOM. Mr. Huddlestone was putting on
his boots, still violently trembling, but with an air of
determination such as I had not hitherto observed. Clara stood
close by him, with her cloak in both hands ready to throw about her
shoulders, and a strange look in her eyes, as if she were half
hopeful, half doubtful of her father.
"Well, boys and girls," said Northmour, "how about a sally? The
oven is heating; it is not good to stay here and be baked; and, for
my part, I want to come to my hands with them, and be done."
"There is nothing else left," I replied.
And both Clara and Mr. Huddlestone, though with a very different
intonation, added, "Nothing."
As we went downstairs the heat was excessive, and the roaring of
the fire filled our ears; and we had scarce reached the passage
before the stairs window fell in, a branch of flame shot
brandishing through the aperture, and the interior of the pavilion
became lit up with that dreadful and fluctuating glare. At the
same moment we heard the fall of something heavy and inelastic in
the upper story. The whole pavilion, it was plain, had gone alight
like a box of matches, and now not only flamed sky-high to land and
sea, but threatened with every moment to crumble and fall in about
our ears.
Northmour and I cocked our revolvers. Mr. Huddlestone, who had
already refused a firearm, put us behind him with a manner of
"Let Clara open the door," said he. "So, if they fire a volley,
she will be protected. And in the meantime stand behind me. I am
the scapegoat; my sins have found me out."
I heard him, as I stood breathless by his shoulder, with my pistol
ready, pattering off prayers in a tremulous, rapid whisper; and I
confess, horrid as the thought may seem, I despised him for
thinking of supplications in a moment so critical and thrilling.
In the meantime, Clara, who was dead white but still possessed her
faculties, had displaced the barricade from the front door.
Another moment, and she had pulled it open. Firelight and
moonlight illuminated the links with confused and changeful lustre,
and far away against the sky we could see a long trail of glowing
Mr. Huddlestone, filled for the moment with a strength greater than
his own, struck Northmour and myself a back-hander in the chest;
and while we were thus for the moment incapacitated from action,
lifting his arms above his head like one about to dive, he ran
straight forward out of the pavilion.
"Here am!" he cried - "Huddlestone! Kill me, and spare the
His sudden appearance daunted, I suppose, our hidden enemies; for
Northmour and I had time to recover, to seize Clara between us, one
by each arm, and to rush forth to his assistance, ere anything
further had taken place. But scarce had we passed the threshold
when there came near a dozen reports and flashes from every
direction among the hollows of the links. Mr. Huddlestone
staggered, uttered a weird and freezing cry, threw up his arms over
his head, and fell backward on the turf.
"TRADITORE! TRADITORE!" cried the invisible avengers.
And just then, a part of the roof of the pavilion fell in, so rapid
was the progress of the fire. A loud, vague, and horrible noise
accompanied the collapse, and a vast volume of flame went soaring
up to heaven. It must have been visible at that moment from twenty
miles out at sea, from the shore at Graden Wester, and far inland
from the peak of Graystiel, the most eastern summit of the Caulder
Hills. Bernard Huddlestone, although God knows what were his
obsequies, had a fine pyre at the moment of his death.
I should have the greatest difficulty to tell you what followed
next after this tragic circumstance. It is all to me, as I look
back upon it, mixed, strenuous, and ineffectual, like the struggles
of a sleeper in a nightmare. Clara, I remember, uttered a broken
sigh and would have fallen forward to earth, had not Northmour and
I supported her insensible body. I do not think we were attacked;
I do not remember even to have seen an assailant; and I believe we
deserted Mr. Huddlestone without a glance. I only remember running
like a man in a panic, now carrying Clara altogether in my own
arms, now sharing her weight with Northmour, now scuffling
confusedly for the possession of that dear burden. Why we should
have made for my camp in the Hemlock Den, or how we reached it, are
points lost for ever to my recollection. The first moment at which
I became definitely sure, Clara had been suffered to fall against
the outside of my little tent, Northmour and I were tumbling
together on the ground, and he, with contained ferocity, was
striking for my head with the butt of his revolver. He had already
twice wounded me on the scalp; and it is to the consequent loss of
blood that I am tempted to attribute the sudden clearness of my
I caught him by the wrist.
"Northmour," I remember saying, "you can kill me afterwards. Let
us first attend to Clara."
He was at that moment uppermost. Scarcely had the words passed my
lips, when he had leaped to his feet and ran towards the tent; and
the next moment, he was straining Clara to his heart and covering
her unconscious hands and face with his caresses.
"Shame!" I cried. "Shame to you, Northmour!"
And, giddy though I still was, I struck him repeatedly upon the
head and shoulders.
He relinquished his grasp, and faced me in the broken moonlight.
"I had you under, and I let you go," said he; "and now you strike
me! Coward!"
"You are the coward," I retorted. "Did she wish your kisses while
she was still sensible of what she wanted? Not she! And now she
may be dying; and you waste this precious time, and abuse her
helplessness. Stand aside, and let me help her."
He confronted me for a moment, white and menacing; then suddenly he
stepped aside.
"Help her then," said he.
I threw myself on my knees beside her, and loosened, as well as I
was able, her dress and corset; but while I was thus engaged, a
grasp descended on my shoulder.
"Keep your hands of her," said Northmour fiercely. "Do you think I
have no blood in my veins?"
"Northmour," I cried, "if you will neither help her yourself, nor
let me do so, do you know that I shall have to kill you?"
"That is better!" he cried. "Let her die also, where's the harm?
Step aside from that girl! and stand up to fight"
"You will observe," said I, half rising, "that I have not kissed
her yet."
"I dare you to," he cried.
I do not know what possessed me; it was one of the things I am most
ashamed of in my life, though, as my wife used to say, I knew that
my kisses would be always welcome were she dead or living; down I
fell again upon my knees, parted the hair from her forehead, and,
with the dearest respect, laid my lips for a moment on that cold
brow. It was such a caress as a father might have given; it was
such a one as was not unbecoming from a man soon to die to a woman
already dead.
"And now," said I, "I am at your service, Mr. Northmour."
But I saw, to my surprise, that he had turned his back upon me.
"Do you hear?" I asked.
"Yes," said he, "I do. If you wish to fight, I am ready. If not,
go on and save Clara. All is one to me."
I did not wait to be twice bidden; but, stooping again over Clara,
continued my efforts to revive her. She still lay white and
lifeless; I began to fear that her sweet spirit had indeed fled
beyond recall, and horror and a sense of utter desolation seized
upon my heart. I called her by name with the most endearing
inflections; I chafed and beat her hands; now I laid her head low,
now supported it against my knee; but all seemed to be in vain, and
the lids still lay heavy on her eyes.
"Northmour," I said, "there is my hat. For God's sake bring some
water from the spring."
Almost in a moment he was by my side with the water. "I have
brought it in my own," he said. "You do not grudge me the
"Northmour," I was beginning to say, as I laved her head and
breast; but he interrupted me savagely.
"Oh, you hush up!" he said. "The best thing you can do is to say
I had certainly no desire to talk, my mind being swallowed up in
concern for my dear love and her condition; so I continued in
silence to do my best towards her recovery, and, when the hat was
empty, returned it to him, with one word - "More." He had,
perhaps, gone several times upon this errand, when Clara reopened
her eyes.
"Now," said he, "since she is better, you can spare me, can you
not? I wish you a good night, Mr. Cassilis."
And with that he was gone among the thicket. I made a fire, for I
had now no fear of the Italians, who had even spared all the little
possessions left in my encampment; and, broken as she was by the
excitement and the hideous catastrophe of the evening, I managed,
in one way or another - by persuasion, encouragement, warmth, and
such simple remedies as I could lay my hand on - to bring her back
to some composure of mind and strength of body.
Day had already come, when a sharp "Hist!" sounded from the
thicket. I started from the ground; but the voice of Northmour was
heard adding, in the most tranquil tones: "Come here, Cassilis,
and alone; I want to show you something."
I consulted Clara with my eyes, and, receiving her tacit
permission, left her alone, and clambered out of the den. At some
distance of I saw Northmour leaning against an elder; and, as soon
as he perceived me, he began walking seaward. I had almost
overtaken him as he reached the outskirts of the wood.
"Look," said he, pausing.
A couple of steps more brought me out of the foliage. The light of
the morning lay cold and clear over that well-known scene. The
pavilion was but a blackened wreck; the roof had fallen in, one of
the gables had fallen out; and, far and near, the face of the links
was cicatrised with little patches of burnt furze. Thick smoke
still went straight upwards in the windless air of the morning, and
a great pile of ardent cinders filled the bare walls of the house,
like coals in an open grate. Close by the islet a schooner yacht
lay to, and a well-manned boat was pulling vigorously for the
"The RED EARL!" I cried. "The RED EARL twelve hours too late!"
"Feel in your pocket, Frank. Are you armed?" asked Northmour.
I obeyed him, and I think I must have become deadly pale. My
revolver had been taken from me.
"You see I have you in my power," he continued. "I disarmed you
last night while you were nursing Clara; but this morning - here -
take your pistol. No thanks!" he cried, holding up his hand. "I
do not like them; that is the only way you can annoy me now."
He began to walk forward across the links to meet the boat, and I
followed a step or two behind. In front of the pavilion I paused
to see where Mr. Huddlestone had fallen; but there was no sign of
him, nor so much as a trace of blood.
"Graden Floe," said Northmour.
He continued to advance till we had come to the head of the beach.
"No farther, please," said he. "Would you like to take her to
Graden House?"
"Thank you," replied I; "I shall try to get her to the minister's
at Graden Wester."
The prow of the boat here grated on the beach, and a sailor jumped
ashore with a line in his hand.
"Wait a minute, lads!" cried Northmour; and then lower and to my
private ear: "You had better say nothing of all this to her," he
"On the contrary!" I broke out, "she shall know everything that I
can tell."
"You do not understand," he returned, with an air of great dignity.
"It will be nothing to her; she expects it of me. Good-bye!" he
added, with a nod.
I offered him my hand.
"Excuse me," said he. "It's small, I know; but I can't push things
quite so far as that. I don't wish any sentimental business, to
sit by your hearth a white-haired wanderer, and all that. Quite
the contrary: I hope to God I shall never again clap eyes on
either one of you."
"Well, God bless you, Northmour!" I said heartily.
"Oh, yes," he returned.
He walked down the beach; and the man who was ashore gave him an
arm on board, and then shoved off and leaped into the bows himself.
Northmour took the tiller; the boat rose to the waves, and the oars
between the thole-pins sounded crisp and measured in the morning
They were not yet half-way to the RED EARL, and I was still
watching their progress, when the sun rose out of the sea.
One word more, and my story is done. Years after, Northmour was
killed fighting under the colours of Garibaldi for the liberation
of the Tyrol.
It was late in November 1456. The snow fell over Paris with
rigorous, relentless persistence; sometimes the wind made a sally
and scattered it in flying vortices; sometimes there was a lull,
and flake after flake descended out of the black night air, silent,
circuitous, interminable. To poor people, looking up under moist
eyebrows, it seemed a wonder where it all came from. Master
Francis Villon had propounded an alternative that afternoon, at a
tavern window: was it only Pagan Jupiter plucking geese upon
Olympus? or were the holy angels moulting? He was only a poor
Master of Arts, he went on; and as the question somewhat touched
upon divinity, he durst not venture to conclude. A silly old
priest from Montargis, who was among the company, treated the young
rascal to a bottle of wine in honour of the jest and the grimaces
with which it was accompanied, and swore on his own white beard
that he had been just such another irreverent dog when he was
Villon's age.
The air was raw and pointed, but not far below freezing; and the
flakes were large, damp, and adhesive. The whole city was sheeted
up. An army might have marched from end to end and not a footfall
given the alarm. If there were any belated birds in heaven, they
saw the island like a large white patch, and the bridges like slim
white spars, on the black ground of the river. High up overhead
the snow settled among the tracery of the cathedral towers. Many a
niche was drifted full; many a statue wore a long white bonnet on
its grotesque or sainted head. The gargoyles had been transformed
into great false noses, drooping towards the point. The crockets
were like upright pillows swollen on one side. In the intervals of
the wind, there was a dull sound of dripping about the precincts of
the church.
The cemetery of St. John had taken its own share of the snow. All
the graves were decently covered; tall white housetops stood around
in grave array; worthy burghers were long ago in bed, benightcapped
like their domiciles; there was no light in all the neighbourhood
but a little peep from a lamp that hung swinging in the church
choir, and tossed the shadows to and fro in time to its
oscillations. The clock was hard on ten when the patrol went by
with halberds and a lantern, beating their hands; and they saw
nothing suspicious about the cemetery of St. John.
Yet there was a small house, backed up against the cemetery wall,
which was still awake, and awake to evil purpose, in that snoring
district. There was not much to betray it from without; only a
stream of warm vapour from the chimney-top, a patch where the snow
melted on the roof, and a few half-obliterated footprints at the
door. But within, behind the shuttered windows, Master Francis
Villon the poet, and some of the thievish crew with whom he
consorted, were keeping the night alive and passing round the
A great pile of living embers diffused a strong and ruddy glow from
the arched chimney. Before this straddled Dom Nicolas, the Picardy
monk, with his skirts picked up and his fat legs bared to the
comfortable warmth. His dilated shadow cut the room in half; and
the firelight only escaped on either side of his broad person, and
in a little pool between his outspread feet. His face had the
beery, bruised appearance of the continual drinker's; it was
covered with a network of congested veins, purple in ordinary
circumstances, but now pale violet, for even with his back to the
fire the cold pinched him on the other side. His cowl had half
fallen back, and made a strange excrescence on either side of his
bull neck. So he straddled, grumbling, and cut the room in half
with the shadow of his portly frame.
On the right, Villon and Guy Tabary were huddled together over a
scrap of parchment; Villon making a ballade which he was to call
the "Ballade of Roast Fish," and Tabary spluttering admiration at
his shoulder. The poet was a rag of a man, dark, little, and lean,
with hollow cheeks and thin black locks. He carried his four-andtwenty
years with feverish animation. Greed had made folds about
his eyes, evil smiles had puckered his mouth. The wolf and pig
struggled together in his face. It was an eloquent, sharp, ugly,
earthly countenance. His hands were small and prehensile, with
fingers knotted like a cord; and they were continually flickering
in front of him in violent and expressive pantomime. As for
Tabary, a broad, complacent, admiring imbecility breathed from his
squash nose and slobbering lips: he had become a thief, just as he
might have become the most decent of burgesses, by the imperious
chance that rules the lives of human geese and human donkeys.
At the monk's other hand, Montigny and Thevenin Pensete played a
game of chance. About the first there clung some flavour of good
birth and training, as about a fallen angel; something long, lithe,
and courtly in the person; something aquiline and darkling in the
face. Thevenin, poor soul, was in great feather: he had done a
good stroke of knavery that afternoon in the Faubourg St. Jacques,
and all night he had been gaining from Montigny. A flat smile
illuminated his face; his bald head shone rosily in a garland of
red curls; his little protuberant stomach shook with silent
chucklings as he swept in his gains.
"Doubles or quits?" said Thevenin. Montigny nodded grimly.
"Some may prefer to dine in state," wrote Villon, "On bread and
cheese on silver plate. Or - or - help me out, Guido!"
Tabary giggled.
"Or parsley on a golden dish," scribbled the poet.
The wind was freshening without; it drove the snow before it, and
sometimes raised its voice in a victorious whoop, and made
sepulchral grumblings in the chimney. The cold was growing sharper
an the night went on. Villon, protruding his lips, imitated the
gust with something between a whistle and a groan. It was an
eerie, uncomfortable talent of the poet's, much detested by the
Picardy monk.
"Can't you hear it rattle in the gibbet?" said Villon. "They are
all dancing the devil's jig on nothing, up there. You may dance,
my gallants, you'll be none the warmer! Whew! what a gust! Down
went somebody just now! A medlar the fewer on the three-legged
medlar-tree! - I say, Dom Nicolas, it'll be cold to-night on the
St. Denis Road?" he asked.
Dom Nicolas winked both his big eyes, and seemed to choke upon his
Adam's apple. Montfaucon, the great grisly Paris gibbet, stood
hard by the St. Denis Road, and the pleasantry touched him on the
raw. As for Tabary, he laughed immoderately over the medlars; he
had never heard anything more light-hearted; and he held his sides
and crowed. Villon fetched him a fillip on the nose, which turned
his mirth into an attack of coughing.
"Oh, stop that row," said Villon, "and think of rhymes to 'fish'."
"Doubles or quits," said Montigny doggedly.
"With all my heart," quoth Thevenin.
"Is there any more in that bottle?" asked the monk.
"Open another," said Villon. "How do you ever hope to fill that
big hogshead, your body, with little things like bottles? And how
do you expect to get to heaven? How many angels, do you fancy, can
be spared to carry up a single monk from Picardy? Or do you think
yourself another Elias - and they'll send the coach for you?"
"HOMINIBUS IMPOSSIBILE," replied the monk, as he filled his glass.
Tabary was in ecstasies.
Villon filliped his nose again.
"Laugh at my jokes, if you like," he said.
"It was very good," objected Tabary.
Villon made a face at him. "Think of rhymes to 'fish'," he said.
"What have you to do with Latin? You'll wish you knew none of it
at the great assizes, when the devil calls for Guido Tabary,
clericus - the devil with the hump-back and red-hot finger-nails.
Talking of the devil," he added in a whisper, "look at Montigny!"
All three peered covertly at the gamester. He did not seem to be
enjoying his luck. His mouth was a little to a side; one nostril
nearly shut, and the other much inflated. The black dog was on his
back, as people say, in terrifying nursery metaphor; and he
breathed hard under the gruesome burden.
"He looks as if he could knife him," whispered Tabary, with round
The monk shuddered, and turned his face and spread his open hands
to the red embers. It was the cold that thus affected Dom Nicolas,
and not any excess of moral sensibility
"Come now," said Villon - "about this ballade. How does it run so
far?" And beating time with his hand, he read it aloud to Tabary.
They were interrupted at the fourth rhyme by a brief and fatal
movement among the gamesters. The round was completed, and
Thevenin was just opening his mouth to claim another victory, when
Montigny leaped up, swift as an adder, and stabbed him to the
heart. The blow took effect before he had time to utter a cry,
before he had time to move. A tremor or two convulsed his frame;
his hands opened and shut, his heels rattled on the floor; then his
head rolled backward over one shoulder with the eyes wide open; and
Thevenin Pensete's spirit had returned to Him who made it.
Everyone sprang to his feet; but the business was over in two twos.
The four living fellows looked at each other in rather a ghastly
fashion; the dead man contemplating a corner of the roof with a
singular and ugly leer.
"My God!" said Tabary; and he began to pray in Latin.
Villon broke out into hysterical laughter. He came a step forward
and ducked a ridiculous bow at Thevenin, and laughed still louder.
Then he sat down suddenly, all of a heap, upon a stool, and
continued laughing bitterly as though he would shake himself to
Montigny recovered his composure first.
"Let's see what he has about him," he remarked; and he picked the
dead man's pockets with a practised hand, and divided the money
into four equal portions on the table. "There's for you," he said.
The monk received his share with a deep sigh, and a single stealthy
glance at the dead Thevenin, who was beginning to sink into himself
and topple sideways of the chair.
"We're all in for it," cried Villon, swallowing his mirth. "It's a
hanging job for every man jack of us that's here - not to speak of
those who aren't." He made a shocking gesture in the air with his
raised right hand, and put out his tongue and threw his head on one
side, so as to counterfeit the appearance of one who has been
hanged. Then he pocketed his share of the spoil, and executed a
shuffle with his feet as if to restore the circulation.
Tabary was the last to help himself; he made a dash at the money,
and retired to the other end of the apartment.
Montigny stuck Thevenin upright in the chair, and drew out the
dagger, which was followed by a jet of blood.
"You fellows had better be moving," he said, as he wiped the blade
on his victim's doublet.
"I think we had," returned Villon with a gulp. "Damn his fat
head!" he broke out. "It sticks in my throat like phlegm. What
right has a man to have red hair when he is dead?" And he fell all
of a heap again upon the stool, and fairly covered his face with
his hands.
Montigny and Dom Nicolas laughed aloud, even Tabary feebly chiming
"Cry baby," said the monk.
"I always said he was a woman," added Montigny with a sneer. "Sit
up, can't you?" he went on, giving another shake to the murdered
body. "Tread out that fire, Nick!"
But Nick was better employed; he was quietly taking Villon's purse,
as the poet sat, limp and trembling, on the stool where he had been
making a ballade not three minutes before. Montigny and Tabary
dumbly demanded a share of the booty, which the monk silently
promised as he passed the little bag into the bosom of his gown.
In many ways an artistic nature unfits a man for practical
No sooner had the theft been accomplished than Villon shook
himself, jumped to his feet, and began helping to scatter and
extinguish the embers. Meanwhile Montigny opened the door and
cautiously peered into the street. The coast was clear; there was
no meddlesome patrol in sight. Still it was judged wiser to slip
out severally; and as Villon was himself in a hurry to escape from
the neighbourhood of the dead Thevenin, and the rest were in a
still greater hurry to get rid of him before he should discover the
loss of his money, he was the first by general consent to issue
forth into the street.
The wind had triumphed and swept all the clouds from heaven. Only
a few vapours, as thin as moonlight, fleeting rapidly across the
stars. It was bitter cold; and by a common optical effect, things
seemed almost more definite than in the broadest daylight. The
sleeping city was absolutely still: a company of white hoods, a
field full of little Alps, below the twinkling stars. Villon
cursed his fortune. Would it were still snowing! Now, wherever he
went, he left an indelible trail behind him on the glittering
streets; wherever he went he was still tethered to the house by the
cemetery of St. John; wherever he went he must weave, with his own
plodding feet, the rope that bound him to the crime and would bind
him to the gallows. The leer of the dead man came back to him with
a new significance. He snapped his fingers as if to pluck up his
own spirits, and choosing a street at random, stepped boldly
forward in the snow.
Two things preoccupied him as he went: the aspect of the gallows
at Montfaucon in this bright windy phase of the night's existence,
for one; and for another, the look of the dead man with his bald
head and garland of red curls. Both struck cold upon his heart,
and he kept quickening his pace as if he could escape from
unpleasant thoughts by mere fleetness of foot. Sometimes he looked
back over his shoulder with a sudden nervous jerk; but he was the
only moving thing in the white streets, except when the wind
swooped round a corner and threw up the snow, which was beginning
to freeze, in spouts of glittering dust.
Suddenly he saw, a long way before him, a black clump and a couple
of lanterns. The clump was in motion, and the lanterns swung as
though carried by men walking. It was a patrol. And though it was
merely crossing his line of march, he judged it wiser to get out of
eyeshot as speedily as he could. He was not in the humour to be
challenged, and he was conscious of making a very conspicuous mark
upon the snow. Just on his left hand there stood a great hotel,
with some turrets and a large porch before the door; it was halfruinous,
he remembered, and had long stood empty; and so he made
three steps of it and jumped into the shelter of the porch. It was
pretty dark inside, after the glimmer of the snowy streets, and he
was groping forward with outspread hands, when he stumbled over
some substance which offered an indescribable mixture of
resistances, hard and soft, firm and loose. His heart gave a leap,
and he sprang two steps back and stared dreadfully at the obstacle.
Then he gave a little laugh of relief. It was only a woman, and
she dead. He knelt beside her to make sure upon this latter point.
She was freezing cold, and rigid like a stick. A little ragged
finery fluttered in the wind about her hair, and her cheeks had
been heavily rouged that same afternoon. Her pockets were quite
empty; but in her stocking, underneath the garter, Villon found two
of the small coins that went by the name of whites. It was little
enough; but it was always something; and the poet was moved with a
deep sense of pathos that she should have died before she had spent
her money. That seemed to him a dark and pitiable mystery; and he
looked from the coins in his hand to the dead woman, and back again
to the coins, shaking his head over the riddle of man's life.
Henry V. of England, dying at Vincennes just after he had conquered
France, and this poor jade cut off by a cold draught in a great
man's doorway, before she had time to spend her couple of whites -
it seemed a cruel way to carry on the world. Two whites would have
taken such a little while to squander; and yet it would have been
one more good taste in the mouth, one more smack of the lips,
before the devil got the soul, and the body was left to birds and
vermin. He would like to use all his tallow before the light was
blown out and the lantern broken.
While these thoughts were passing through his mind, he was feeling,
half mechanically, for his purse. Suddenly his heart stopped
beating; a feeling of cold scales passed up the back of his legs,
and a cold blow seemed to fall upon his scalp. He stood petrified
for a moment; then he felt again with one feverish movement; and
then his loss burst upon him, and he was covered at once with
perspiration. To spendthrifts money is so living and actual - it
is such a thin veil between them and their pleasures! There is
only one limit to their fortune - that of time; and a spendthrift
with only a few crowns is the Emperor of Rome until they are spent.
For such a person to lose his money is to suffer the most shocking
reverse, and fall from heaven to hell, from all to nothing, in a
breath. And all the more if he has put his head in the halter for
it; if he may be hanged to-morrow for that same purse, so dearly
earned, so foolishly departed! Villon stood and cursed; he threw
the two whites into the street; he shook his fist at heaven; he
stamped, and was not horrified to find himself trampling the poor
corpse. Then he began rapidly to retrace his steps towards the
house beside the cemetery. He had forgotten all fear of the
patrol, which was long gone by at any rate, and had no idea but
that of his lost purse. It was in vain that he looked right and
left upon the snow: nothing was to be seen. He had not dropped it
in the streets. Had it fallen in the house? He would have liked
dearly to go in and see; but the idea of the grisly occupant
unmanned him. And he saw besides, as he drew near, that their
efforts to put out the fire had been unsuccessful; on the contrary,
it had broken into a blaze, and a changeful light played in the
chinks of door and window, and revived his terror for the
authorities and Paris gibbet.
He returned to the hotel with the porch, and groped about upon the
snow for the money he had thrown away in his childish passion. But
he could only find one white; the other had probably struck
sideways and sunk deeply in. With a single white in his pocket,
all his projects for a rousing night in some wild tavern vanished
utterly away. And it was not only pleasure that fled laughing from
his grasp; positive discomfort, positive pain, attacked him as he
stood ruefully before the porch. His perspiration had dried upon
him; and though the wind had now fallen, a binding frost was
setting in stronger with every hour, and be felt benumbed and sick
at heart. What was to be done? Late as was the hour, improbable
as was success, he would try the house of his adopted father, the
chaplain of St. Benoit.
He ran there all the way, and knocked timidly. There was no
answer. He knocked again and again, taking heart with every
stroke; and at last steps were heard approaching from within. A
barred wicket fell open in the iron-studded door, and emitted a
gush of yellow light.
"Hold up your face to the wicket," said the chaplain from within.
"It's only me," whimpered Villon.
"Oh, it's only you, is it?" returned the chaplain; and he cursed
him with foul unpriestly oaths for disturbing him at such an hour,
and bade him be off to hell, where he came from.
"My hands are blue to the wrist," pleaded Villon; "my feet are dead
and full of twinges; my nose aches with the sharp air; the cold
lies at my heart. I may be dead before morning. Only this once,
father, and before God I will never ask again!"
"You should have come earlier," said the ecclesiastic coolly.
"Young men require a lesson now and then." He shut the wicket and
retired deliberately into the interior of the house.
Villon was beside himself; he beat upon the door with his hands and
feet, and shouted hoarsely after the chaplain.
"Wormy old fox!" he cried. "If I had my hand under your twist, I
would send you flying headlong into the bottomless pit."
A door shut in the interior, faintly audible to the poet down long
passages. He passed his hand over his mouth with an oath. And
then the humour of the situation struck him, and he laughed and
looked lightly up to heaven, where the stars seemed to be winking
over his discomfiture.
What was to be done? It looked very like a night in the frosty
streets. The idea of the dead woman popped into his imagination,
and gave him a hearty fright; what had happened to her in the early
night might very well happen to him before morning. And he so
young! and with such immense possibilities of disorderly amusement
before him! He felt quite pathetic over the notion of his own
fate, as if it had been some one else's, and made a little
imaginative vignette of the scene in the morning when they should
find his body.
He passed all his chances under review, turning the white between
his thumb and forefinger. Unfortunately he was on bad terms with
some old friends who would once have taken pity on him in such a
plight. He had lampooned them in verses, he had beaten and cheated
them; and yet now, when he was in so close a pinch, he thought
there was at least one who might perhaps relent. It was a chance.
It was worth trying at least, and he would go and see.
On the way, two little accidents happened to him which coloured his
musings in a very different manner. For, first, he fell in with
the track of a patrol, and walked in it for some hundred yards,
although it lay out of his direction. And this spirited him up; at
least he had confused his trail; for he was still possessed with
the idea of people tracking him all about Paris over the snow, and
collaring him next morning before he was awake. The other matter
affected him very differently. He passed a street corner, where,
not so long before, a woman and her child had been devoured by
wolves. This was just the kind of weather, he reflected, when
wolves might take it into their heads to enter Paris again; and a
lone man in these deserted streets would run the chance of
something worse than a mere scare. He stopped and looked upon the
place with an unpleasant interest - it was a centre where several
lanes intersected each other; and he looked down them all one after
another, and held his breath to listen, lest he should detect some
galloping black things on the snow or hear the sound of howling
between him and the river. He remembered his mother telling him
the story and pointing out the spot, while he was yet a child. His
mother! If he only knew where she lived, he might make sure at
least of shelter. He determined he would inquire upon the morrow;
nay, he would go and see her too, poor old girl! So thinking, he
arrived at his destination - his last hope for the night.
The house was quite dark, like its neighbours; and yet after a few
taps, he heard a movement overhead, a door opening, and a cautious
voice asking who was there. The poet named himself in a loud
whisper, and waited, not without come trepidation, the result. Nor
had he to wait long. A window was suddenly opened, and a pailful
of slops splashed down upon the doorstep. Villon had not been
unprepared for something of the sort, and had put himself as much
in shelter as the nature of the porch admitted; but for all that,
he was deplorably drenched below the waist. His hose began to
freeze almost at once. Death from cold and exposure stared him in
the face; he remembered he was of phthisical tendency, and began
coughing tentatively. But the gravity of the danger steadied his
nerves. He stopped a few hundred yards from the door where he had
been so rudely used, and reflected with his finger to his nose. He
could only see one way of getting a lodging, and that was to take
it. He had noticed a house not far away, which looked as if it
might be easily broken into, and thither he betook himself
promptly, entertaining himself on the way with the idea of a room
still hot, with a table still loaded with the remains of supper,
where he might pass the rest of the black hours, and whence he
should issue, on the morrow, with an armful of valuable plate. He
even considered on what viands and what wines he should prefer; and
as he was calling the roll of his favourite dainties, roast fish
presented itself to his mind with an odd mixture of amusement and
"I shall never finish that ballade," he thought to himself; and
then, with another shudder at the recollection, "Oh, damn his fat
head!" he repeated fervently, and spat upon the snow.
The house in question looked dark at first sight; but as Villon
made a preliminary inspection in search of the handiest point of
attack, a little twinkle of light caught his eye from behind a
curtained window.
"The devil!" he thought. "People awake! Some student or some
saint, confound the crew! Can't they get drunk and lie in bed
snoring like their neighbours? What's the good of curfew, and poor
devils of bell-ringers jumping at a rope's end in bell-towers?
What's the use of day, if people sit up all night? The gripes to
them!" He grinned as he saw where his logic was leading him.
"Every man to his business, after all," added he, "and if they're
awake, by the Lord, I may come by a supper honestly for this once,
and cheat the devil."
He went boldly to the door and knocked with an assured hand. On
both previous occasions, he had knocked timidly and with some dread
of attracting notice; but now when he had just discarded the
thought of a burglarious entry, knocking at a door seemed a mighty
simple and innocent proceeding. The sound of his blows echoed
through the house with thin, phantasmal reverberations, as though
it were quite empty; but these had scarcely died away before a
measured tread drew near, a couple of bolts were withdrawn, and one
wing was opened broadly, as though no guile or fear of guile were
known to those within. A tall figure of a man, muscular and spare,
but a little bent, confronted Villon. The head was massive in
bulk, but finely sculptured; the nose blunt at the bottom, but
refining upward to where it joined a pair of strong and honest
eyebrows; the mouth and eyes surrounded with delicate markings, and
the whole face based upon a thick white beard, boldly and squarely
trimmed. Seen as it was by the light of a flickering hand-lamp, it
looked perhaps nobler than it had a right to do; but it was a fine
face, honourable rather than intelligent, strong, simple, and
"You knock late, sir," said the old man in resonant, courteous
Villon cringed, and brought up many servile words of apology; at a
crisis of this sort, the beggar was uppermost in him, and the man
of genius hid his head with confusion.
"You are cold," repeated the old man, "and hungry? Well, step in."
And he ordered him into the house with a noble enough gesture.
"Some great seigneur," thought Villon, as his host, setting down
the lamp on the flagged pavement of the entry, shot the bolts once
more into their places.
"You will pardon me if I go in front," he said, when this was done;
and he preceded the poet upstairs into a large apartment, warmed
with a pan of charcoal and lit by a great lamp hanging from the
roof. It was very bare of furniture: only some gold plate on a
sideboard; some folios; and a stand of armour between the windows.
Some smart tapestry hung upon the walls, representing the
crucifixion of our Lord in one piece, and in another a scene of
shepherds and shepherdesses by a running stream. Over the chimney
was a shield of arms.
"Will you seat yourself," said the old man, "and forgive me if I
leave you? I am alone in my house to-night, and if you are to eat
I must forage for you myself."
No sooner was his host gone than Villon leaped from the chair on
which he had just seated himself, and began examining the room,
with the stealth and passion of a cat. He weighed the gold flagons
in his hand, opened all the folios, and investigated the arms upon
the shield, and the stuff with which the seats were lined. He
raised the window curtains, and saw that the windows were set with
rich stained glass in figures, so far as he could see, of martial
import. Then he stood in the middle of the room, drew a long
breath, and retaining it with puffed cheeks, looked round and round
him, turning on his heels, as if to impress every feature of the
apartment on his memory.
"Seven pieces of plate," he said. "If there had been ten, I would
have risked it. A fine house, and a fine old master, so help me
all the saints!"
And just then, hearing the old man's tread returning along the
corridor, he stole back to his chair, and began humbly toasting his
wet legs before the charcoal pan.
His entertainer had a plate of meat in one hand and a jug of wine
in the other. He set down the plate upon the table, motioning
Villon to draw in his chair, and going to the sideboard, brought
back two goblets, which he filled.
"I drink to your better fortune," he said, gravely touching
Villon's cup with his own.
"To our better acquaintance," said the poet, growing bold. A mere
man of the people would have been awed by the courtesy of the old
seigneur, but Villon was hardened in that matter; he had made mirth
for great lords before now, and found them as black rascals as
himself. And so he devoted himself to the viands with a ravenous
gusto, while the old man, leaning backward, watched him with
steady, curious eyes.
"You have blood on your shoulder, my man," he said. Montigny must
have laid his wet right hand upon him as he left the house. He
cursed Montigny in his heart.
"It was none of my shedding," he stammered.
"I had not supposed so," returned his host quietly.
"A brawl?"
"Well, something of that sort," Villon admitted with a quaver.
"Perhaps a fellow murdered?"
"Oh no, not murdered," said the poet, more and more confused. "It
was all fair play - murdered by accident. I had no hand in it, God
strike me dead!" he added fervently.
"One rogue the fewer, I dare say," observed the master of the
"You may dare to say that," agreed Villon, infinitely relieved.
"As big a rogue as there is between here and Jerusalem. He turned
up his toes like a lamb. But it was a nasty thing to look at. I
dare say you've seen dead men in your time, my lord?" he added,
glancing at the armour.
"Many," said the old man. "I have followed the wars, as you
Villon laid down his knife and fork, which he had just taken up
"Were any of them bald?" he asked.
"Oh yes, and with hair as white as mine."
"I don't think I should mind the white so much," said Villon. "His
was red." And he had a return of his shuddering and tendency to
laughter, which he drowned with a great draught of wine. "I'm a
little put out when I think of it," he went on. "I knew him - damn
him! And then the cold gives a man fancies - or the fancies give a
man cold, I don't know which."
"Have you any money?" asked the old man.
"I have one white," returned the poet, laughing. "I got it out of
a dead jade's stocking in a porch. She was as dead as Caesar, poor
wench, and as cold as a church, with bits of ribbon sticking in her
hair. This is a hard world in winter for wolves and wenches and
poor rogues like me."
"I," said the old man, "am Enguerrand de la Feuillee, seigneur de
Brisetout, bailly du Patatrac. Who and what may you be?"
Villon rose and made a suitable reverence. "I am called Francis
Villon," he said, "a poor Master of Arts of this university. I
know some Latin, and a deal of vice. I can make chansons,
ballades, lais, virelais, and roundels, and I am very fond of wine.
I was born in a garret, and I shall not improbably die upon the
gallows. I may add, my lord, that from this night forward I am
your lordship's very obsequious servant to command."
"No servant of mine," said the knight; "my guest for this evening,
and no more."
"A very grateful guest," said Villon politely; and he drank in dumb
show to his entertainer.
"You are shrewd," began the old man, tapping his forehead, "very
shrewd; you have learning; you are a clerk; and yet you take a
small piece of money off a dead woman in the street. Is it not a
kind of theft?"
"It is a kind of theft much practised in the wars, my lord."
"The wars are the field of honour," returned the old man proudly.
"There a man plays his life upon the cast; he fights in the name of
his lord the king, his Lord God, and all their lordships the holy
saints and angels."
"Put it," said Villon, "that I were really a thief, should I not
play my life also, and against heavier odds?"
"For gain, but not for honour."
"Gain?" repeated Villon with a shrug. "Gain! The poor fellow
wants supper, and takes it. So does the soldier in a campaign.
Why, what are all these requisitions we hear so much about? If
they are not gain to those who take them, they are loss enough to
the others. The men-at-arms drink by a good fire, while the
burgher bites his nails to buy them wine and wood. I have seen a
good many ploughmen swinging on trees about the country, ay, I have
seen thirty on one elm, and a very poor figure they made; and when
I asked some one how all these came to be hanged, I was told it was
because they could not scrape together enough crowns to satisfy the
"These things are a necessity of war, which the low-born must
endure with constancy. It is true that some captains drive over
hard; there are spirits in every rank not easily moved by pity; and
indeed many follow arms who are no better than brigands."
"You see," said the poet, "you cannot separate the soldier from the
brigand; and what is a thief but an isolated brigand with
circumspect manners? I steal a couple of mutton chops, without so
much as disturbing people's sleep; the farmer grumbles a bit, but
sups none the less wholesomely on what remains. You come up
blowing gloriously on a trumpet, take away the whole sheep, and
beat the farmer pitifully into the bargain. I have no trumpet; I
am only Tom, Dick, or Harry; I am a rogue and a dog, and hanging's
too good for me - with all my heart; but just you ask the farmer
which of us he prefers, just find out which of us he lies awake to
curse on cold nights."
"Look at us two," said his lordship. "I am old, strong, and
honoured. If I were turned from my house to-morrow, hundreds would
be proud to shelter me. Poor people would go out and pass the
night in the streets with their children, if I merely hinted that I
wished to be alone. And I find you up, wandering homeless, and
picking farthings off dead women by the wayside! I fear no man and
nothing; I have seen you tremble and lose countenance at a word. I
wait God's summons contentedly in my own house, or, if it please
the king to call me out again, upon the field of battle. You look
for the gallows; a rough, swift death, without hope or honour. Is
there no difference between these two?"
"As far as to the moon," Villon acquiesced. "But if I had been
born lord of Brisetout, and you had been the poor scholar Francis,
would the difference have been any the less? Should not I have
been warming my knees at this charcoal pan, and would not you have
been groping for farthings in the snow? Should not I have been the
soldier, and you the thief?"
"A thief!" cried the old man. "I a thief! If you understood your
words, you would repent them."
Villon turned out his hands with a gesture of inimitable impudence.
"If your lordship had done me the honour to follow my argument!" he
"I do you too much honour in submitting to your presence," said the
knight. "Learn to curb your tongue when you speak with old and
honourable men, or some one hastier than I may reprove you in a
sharper fashion." And he rose and paced the lower end of the
apartment, struggling with anger and antipathy. Villon
surreptitiously refilled his cup, and settled himself more
comfortably in the chair, crossing his knees and leaning his head
upon one hand and the elbow against the back of the chair. He was
now replete and warm; and he was in nowise frightened for his host,
having gauged him as justly as was possible between two such
different characters. The night was far spent, and in a very
comfortable fashion after all; and he felt morally certain of a
safe departure on the morrow.
"Tell me one thing," said the old man, pausing in his walk. "Are
you really a thief?"
"I claim the sacred rights of hospitality," returned the poet. "My
lord, I am."
"You are very young," the knight continued.
"I should never have been so old," replied Villon, showing his
fingers, "if I had not helped myself with these ten talents. They
have been my nursing mothers and my nursing fathers."
"You may still repent and change."
"I repent daily," said the poet. "There are few people more given
to repentance than poor Francis. As for change, let somebody
change my circumstances. A man must continue to eat, if it were
only that he may continue to repent."
"The change must begin in the heart," returned the old man
"My dear lord," answered Villon, "do you really fancy that I steal
for pleasure? I hate stealing, like any other piece of work or of
danger. My teeth chatter when I see a gallows. But I must eat, I
must drink, I must mix in society of some sort. What the devil!
Man is not a solitary animal - CUI DEUS FAEMINAM TRADIT. Make me
king's pantler - make me abbot of St. Denis; make me bailly of the
Patatrac; and then I shall be changed indeed. But as long as you
leave me the poor scholar Francis Villon, without a farthing, why,
of course, I remain the same."
"The grace of God is all-powerful."
"I should be a heretic to question it," said Francis. "It has made
you lord of Brisetout and bailly of the Patatrac; it has given me
nothing but the quick wits under my hat and these ten toes upon my
hands. May I help myself to wine? I thank you respectfully. By
God's grace, you have a very superior vintage."
The lord of Brisetout walked to and fro with his hands behind his
back. Perhaps he was not yet quite settled in his mind about the
parallel between thieves and soldiers; perhaps Villon had
interested him by some cross-thread of sympathy; perhaps his wits
were simply muddled by so much unfamiliar reasoning; but whatever
the cause, he somehow yearned to convert the young man to a better
way of thinking, and could not make up his mind to drive him forth
again into the street.
"There is something more than I can understand in this," he said at
length. "Your mouth is full of subtleties, and the devil has led
you very far astray; but the devil is only a very weak spirit
before God's truth, and all his subtleties vanish at a word of true
honour, like darkness at morning. Listen to me once more. I
learned long ago that a gentleman should live chivalrously and
lovingly to God, and the king, and his lady; and though I have seen
many strange things done, I have still striven to command my ways
upon that rule. It is not only written in all noble histories, but
in every man's heart, if he will take care to read. You speak of
food and wine, and I know very well that hunger is a difficult
trial to endure; but you do not speak of other wants; you say
nothing of honour, of faith to God and other men, of courtesy, of
love without reproach. It may be that I am not very wise - and yet
I think I am - but you seem to me like one who has lost his way and
made a great error in life. You are attending to the little wants,
and you have totally forgotten the great and only real ones, like a
man who should be doctoring a toothache on the Judgment Day. For
such things as honour and love and faith are not only nobler than
food and drink, but indeed I think that we desire them more, and
suffer more sharply for their absence. I speak to you as I think
you will most easily understand me. Are you not, while careful to
fill your belly, disregarding another appetite in your heart, which
spoils the pleasure of your life and keeps you continually
Villon was sensibly nettled under all this sermonising. "You think
I have no sense of honour!" he cried. "I'm poor enough, God knows!
It's hard to see rich people with their gloves, and you blowing in
your hands. An empty belly is a bitter thing, although you speak
so lightly of it. If you had had as many as I, perhaps you would
change your tune. Any way I'm a thief - make the most of that -
but I'm not a devil from hell, God strike me dead. I would have
you to know I've an honour of my own, as good as yours, though I
don't prate about it all day long, as if it was a God's miracle to
have any. It seems quite natural to me; I keep it in its box till
it's wanted. Why now, look you here, how long have I been in this
room with you? Did you not tell me you were alone in the house?
Look at your gold plate! You're strong, if you like, but you're
old and unarmed, and I have my knife. What did I want but a jerk
of the elbow and here would have been you with the cold steel in
your bowels, and there would have been me, linking in the streets,
with an armful of gold cups! Did you suppose I hadn't wit enough
to see that? And I scorned the action. There are your damned
goblets, as safe as in a church; there are you, with your heart
ticking as good as new; and here am I, ready to go out again as
poor as I came in, with my one white that you threw in my teeth!
And you think I have no sense of honour - God strike me dead!"
The old man stretched out his right arm. "I will tell you what you
are," he said. "You are a rogue, my man, an impudent and a blackhearted
rogue and vagabond. I have passed an hour with you. Oh!
believe me, I feel myself disgraced! And you have eaten and drunk
at my table. But now I am sick at your presence; the day has come,
and the night-bird should be off to his roost. Will you go before,
or after?"
"Which you please," returned the poet, rising. "I believe you to
be strictly honourable." He thoughtfully emptied his cup. "I wish
I could add you were intelligent," he went on, knocking on his head
with his knuckles. "Age, age! the brains stiff and rheumatic."
The old man preceded him from a point of self-respect; Villon
followed, whistling, with his thumbs in his girdle.
"God pity you," said the lord of Brisetout at the door.
"Good-bye, papa," returned Villon with a yawn. "Many thanks for
the cold mutton."
The door closed behind him. The dawn was breaking over the white
roofs. A chill, uncomfortable morning ushered in the day. Villon
stood and heartily stretched himself in the middle of the road.
"A very dull old gentleman," he thought. "I wonder what his
goblets may be worth."
Denis de Beaulieu was not yet two-and-twenty, but he counted
himself a grown man, and a very accomplished cavalier into the
bargain. Lads were early formed in that rough, warfaring epoch;
and when one has been in a pitched battle and a dozen raids, has
killed one's man in an honourable fashion, and knows a thing or two
of strategy and mankind, a certain swagger in the gait is surely to
be pardoned. He had put up his horse with due care, and supped
with due deliberation; and then, in a very agreeable frame of mind,
went out to pay a visit in the grey of the evening. It was not a
very wise proceeding on the young man's part. He would have done
better to remain beside the fire or go decently to bed. For the
town was full of the troops of Burgundy and England under a mixed
command; and though Denis was there on safe-conduct, his safeconduct
was like to serve him little on a chance encounter.
It was September 1429; the weather had fallen sharp; a flighty
piping wind, laden with showers, beat about the township; and the
dead leaves ran riot along the streets. Here and there a window
was already lighted up; and the noise of men-at-arms making merry
over supper within, came forth in fits and was swallowed up and
carried away by the wind. The night fell swiftly; the flag of
England, fluttering on the spire-top, grew ever fainter and fainter
against the flying clouds - a black speck like a swallow in the
tumultuous, leaden chaos of the sky. As the night fell the wind
rose, and began to hoot under archways and roar amid the tree-tops
in the valley below the town.
Denis de Beaulieu walked fast and was soon knocking at his friend's
door; but though he promised himself to stay only a little while
and make an early return, his welcome was so pleasant, and he found
so much to delay him, that it was already long past midnight before
he said good-bye upon the threshold. The wind had fallen again in
the meanwhile; the night was as black as the grave; not a star, nor
a glimmer of moonshine, slipped through the canopy of cloud. Denis
was ill-acquainted with the intricate lanes of Chateau Landon; even
by daylight he had found some trouble in picking his way; and in
this absolute darkness he soon lost it altogether. He was certain
of one thing only - to keep mounting the hill; for his friend's
house lay at the lower end, or tail, of Chateau Landon, while the
inn was up at the head, under the great church spire. With this
clue to go upon he stumbled and groped forward, now breathing more
freely in open places where there was a good slice of sky overhead,
now feeling along the wall in stifling closes. It is an eerie and
mysterious position to be thus submerged in opaque blackness in an
almost unknown town. The silence is terrifying in its
possibilities. The touch of cold window bars to the exploring hand
startles the man like the touch of a toad; the inequalities of the
pavement shake his heart into his mouth; a piece of denser darkness
threatens an ambuscade or a chasm in the pathway; and where the air
is brighter, the houses put on strange and bewildering appearances,
as if to lead him farther from his way. For Denis, who had to
regain his inn without attracting notice, there was real danger as
well as mere discomfort in the walk; and he went warily and boldly
at once, and at every corner paused to make an observation.
He had been for some time threading a lane so narrow that he could
touch a wall with either hand, when it began to open out and go
sharply downward. Plainly this lay no longer in the direction of
his inn; but the hope of a little more light tempted him forward to
reconnoitre. The lane ended in a terrace with a bartizan wall,
which gave an out-look between high houses, as out of an embrasure,
into the valley lying dark and formless several hundred feet below.
Denis looked down, and could discern a few tree-tops waving and a
single speck of brightness where the river ran across a weir. The
weather was clearing up, and the sky had lightened, so as to show
the outline of the heavier clouds and the dark margin of the hills.
By the uncertain glimmer, the house on his left hand should be a
place of some pretensions; it was surmounted by several pinnacles
and turret-tops; the round stern of a chapel, with a fringe of
flying buttresses, projected boldly from the main block; and the
door was sheltered under a deep porch carved with figures and
overhung by two long gargoyles. The windows of the chapel gleamed
through their intricate tracery with a light as of many tapers, and
threw out the buttresses and the peaked roof in a more intense
blackness against the sky. It was plainly the hotel of some great
family of the neighbourhood; and as it reminded Denis of a town
house of his own at Bourges, he stood for some time gazing up at it
and mentally gauging the skill of the architects and the
consideration of the two families.
There seemed to be no issue to the terrace but the lane by which he
had reached it; he could only retrace his steps, but he had gained
some notion of his whereabouts, and hoped by this means to hit the
main thoroughfare and speedily regain the inn. He was reckoning
without that chapter of accidents which was to make this night
memorable above all others in his career; for he had not gone back
above a hundred yards before he saw a light coming to meet him, and
heard loud voices speaking together in the echoing narrows of the
lane. It was a party of men-at-arms going the night round with
torches. Denis assured himself that they had all been making free
with the wine-bowl, and were in no mood to be particular about
safe-conducts or the niceties of chivalrous war. It was as like as
not that they would kill him like a dog and leave him where he
fell. The situation was inspiriting but nervous. Their own
torches would conceal him from sight, he reflected; and he hoped
that they would drown the noise of his footsteps with their own
empty voices. If he were but fleet and silent, he might evade
their notice altogether.
Unfortunately, as he turned to beat a retreat, his foot rolled upon
a pebble; he fell against the wall with an ejaculation, and his
sword rang loudly on the stones. Two or three voices demanded who
went there - some in French, some in English; but Denis made no
reply, and ran the faster down the lane. Once upon the terrace, he
paused to look back. They still kept calling after him, and just
then began to double the pace in pursuit, with a considerable clank
of armour, and great tossing of the torchlight to and fro in the
narrow jaws of the passage.
Denis cast a look around and darted into the porch. There he might
escape observation, or - if that were too much to expect - was in a
capital posture whether for parley or defence. So thinking, he
drew his sword and tried to set his back against the door. To his
surprise, it yielded behind his weight; and though he turned in a
moment, continued to swing back on oiled and noiseless hinges,
until it stood wide open on a black interior. When things fall out
opportunely for the person concerned, he is not apt to be critical
about the how or why, his own immediate personal convenience
seeming a sufficient reason for the strangest oddities and
resolutions in our sublunary things; and so Denis, without a
moment's hesitation, stepped within and partly closed the door
behind him to conceal his place of refuge. Nothing was further
from his thoughts than to close it altogether; but for some
inexplicable reason - perhaps by a spring or a weight - the
ponderous mass of oak whipped itself out of his fingers and clanked
to, with a formidable rumble and a noise like the falling of an
automatic bar.
The round, at that very moment, debauched upon the terrace and
proceeded to summon him with shouts and curses. He heard them
ferreting in the dark corners; the stock of a lance even rattled
along the outer surface of the door behind which he stood; but
these gentlemen were in too high a humour to be long delayed, and
soon made off down a corkscrew pathway which had escaped Denis's
observation, and passed out of sight and hearing along the
battlements of the town.
Denis breathed again. He gave them a few minutes' grace for fear
of accidents, and then groped about for some means of opening the
door and slipping forth again. The inner surface was quite smooth,
not a handle, not a moulding, not a projection of any sort. He got
his finger-nails round the edges and pulled, but the mass was
immovable. He shook it, it was as firm as a rock. Denis de
Beaulieu frowned and gave vent to a little noiseless whistle. What
ailed the door? he wondered. Why was it open? How came it to shut
so easily and so effectually after him? There was something
obscure and underhand about all this, that was little to the young
man's fancy. It looked like a snare; and yet who could suppose a
snare in such a quiet by-street and in a house of so prosperous and
even noble an exterior? And yet - snare or no snare, intentionally
or unintentionally - here he was, prettily trapped; and for the
life of him he could see no way out of it again. The darkness
began to weigh upon him. He gave ear; all was silent without, but
within and close by he seemed to catch a faint sighing, a faint
sobbing rustle, a little stealthy creak - as though many persons
were at his side, holding themselves quite still, and governing
even their respiration with the extreme of slyness. The idea went
to his vitals with a shock, and he faced about suddenly as if to
defend his life. Then, for the first time, he became aware of a
light about the level of his eyes and at some distance in the
interior of the house - a vertical thread of light, widening
towards the bottom, such as might escape between two wings of arras
over a doorway. To see anything was a relief to Denis; it was like
a piece of solid ground to a man labouring in a morass; his mind
seized upon it with avidity; and he stood staring at it and trying
to piece together some logical conception of his surroundings.
Plainly there was a flight of steps ascending from his own level to
that of this illuminated doorway; and indeed he thought he could
make out another thread of light, as fine as a needle and as faint
as phosphorescence, which might very well be reflected along the
polished wood of a handrail. Since he had begun to suspect that he
was not alone, his heart had continued to beat with smothering
violence, and an intolerable desire for action of any sort had
possessed itself of his spirit. He was in deadly peril, he
believed. What could be more natural than to mount the staircase,
lift the curtain, and confront his difficulty at once? At least he
would be dealing with something tangible; at least he would be no
longer in the dark. He stepped slowly forward with outstretched
hands, until his foot struck the bottom step; then he rapidly
scaled the stairs, stood for a moment to compose his expression,
lifted the arras and went in.
He found himself in a large apartment of polished stone. There
were three doors; one on each of three sides; all similarly
curtained with tapestry. The fourth side was occupied by two large
windows and a great stone chimney-piece, carved with the arms of
the Maletroits. Denis recognised the bearings, and was gratified
to find himself in such good hands. The room was strongly
illuminated; but it contained little furniture except a heavy table
and a chair or two, the hearth was innocent of fire, and the
pavement was but sparsely strewn with rushes clearly many days old.
On a high chair beside the chimney, and directly facing Denis as he
entered, sat a little old gentleman in a fur tippet. He sat with
his legs crossed and his hands folded, and a cup of spiced wine
stood by his elbow on a bracket on the wall. His countenance had a
strongly masculine cast; not properly human, but such as we see in
the bull, the goat, or the domestic boar; something equivocal and
wheedling, something greedy, brutal, and dangerous. The upper lip
was inordinately full, as though swollen by a blow or a toothache;
and the smile, the peaked eyebrows, and the small, strong eyes were
quaintly and almost comically evil in expression. Beautiful white
hair hung straight all round his head, like a saint's, and fell in
a single curl upon the tippet. His beard and moustache were the
pink of venerable sweetness. Age, probably in consequence of
inordinate precautions, had left no mark upon his hands; and the
Maletroit hand was famous. It would be difficult to imagine
anything at once so fleshy and so delicate in design; the taper,
sensual fingers were like those of one of Leonardo's women; the
fork of the thumb made a dimpled protuberance when closed; the
nails were perfectly shaped, and of a dead, surprising whiteness.
It rendered his aspect tenfold more redoubtable, that a man with
hands like these should keep them devoutly folded in his lap like a
virgin martyr - that a man with so intense and startling an
expression of face should sit patiently on his seat and contemplate
people with an unwinking stare, like a god, or a god's statue. His
quiescence seemed ironical and treacherous, it fitted so poorly
with his looks.
Such was Alain, Sire de Maletroit.
Denis and he looked silently at each other for a second or two.
"Pray step in," said the Sire de Maletroit. "I have been expecting
you all the evening."
He had not risen, but he accompanied his words with a smile and a
slight but courteous inclination of the head. Partly from the
smile, partly from the strange musical murmur with which the Sire
prefaced his observation, Denis felt a strong shudder of disgust go
through his marrow. And what with disgust and honest confusion of
mind, he could scarcely get words together in reply.
"I fear," he said, "that this is a double accident. I am not the
person you suppose me. It seems you were looking for a visit; but
for my part, nothing was further from my thoughts - nothing could
be more contrary to my wishes - than this intrusion."
"Well, well," replied the old gentleman indulgently, "here you are,
which is the main point. Seat yourself, my friend, and put
yourself entirely at your ease. We shall arrange our little
affairs presently."
Denis perceived that the matter was still complicated with some
misconception, and he hastened to continue his explanations.
"Your door . . . " he began.
"About my door?" asked the other, raising his peaked eyebrows. "A
little piece of ingenuity." And he shrugged his shoulders. "A
hospitable fancy! By your own account, you were not desirous of
making my acquaintance. We old people look for such reluctance now
and then; and when it touches our honour, we cast about until we
find some way of overcoming it. You arrive uninvited, but believe
me, very welcome."
"You persist in error, sir," said Denis. "There can be no question
between you and me. I am a stranger in this countryside. My name
is Denis, damoiseau de Beaulieu. If you see me in your house, it
is only - "
"My young friend," interrupted the other, "you will permit me to
have my own ideas on that subject. They probably differ from yours
at the present moment," he added with a leer, "but time will show
which of us is in the right."
Denis was convinced he had to do with a lunatic. He seated himself
with a shrug, content to wait the upshot; and a pause ensued,
during which he thought he could distinguish a hurried gabbling as
of prayer from behind the arras immediately opposite him.
Sometimes there seemed to be but one person engaged, sometimes two;
and the vehemence of the voice, low as it was, seemed to indicate
either great haste or an agony of spirit. It occurred to him that
this piece of tapestry covered the entrance to the chapel he had
noticed from without.
The old gentleman meanwhile surveyed Denis from head to foot with a
smile, and from time to time emitted little noises like a bird or a
mouse, which seemed to indicate a high degree of satisfaction.
This state of matters became rapidly insupportable; and Denis, to
put an end to it, remarked politely that the wind had gone down.
The old gentleman fell into a fit of silent laughter, so prolonged
and violent that he became quite red in the face. Denis got upon
his feet at once, and put on his hat with a flourish.
"Sir," he said, "if you are in your wits, you have affronted me
grossly. If you are out of them, I flatter myself I can find
better employment for my brains than to talk with lunatics. My
conscience is clear; you have made a fool of me from the first
moment; you have refused to hear my explanations; and now there is
no power under God will make me stay here any longer; and if I
cannot make my way out in a more decent fashion, I will hack your
door in pieces with my sword."
The Sire de Maletroit raised his right hand and wagged it at Denis
with the fore and little fingers extended.
"My dear nephew," he said, "sit down."
"Nephew!" retorted Denis, "you lie in your throat;" and he snapped
his fingers in his face.
"Sit down, you rogue!" cried the old gentleman, in a sudden, harsh
voice, like the barking of a dog. "Do you fancy," he went on,
"that when I had made my little contrivance for the door I had
stopped short with that? If you prefer to be bound hand and foot
till your bones ache, rise and try to go away. If you choose to
remain a free young buck, agreeably conversing with an old
gentleman - why, sit where you are in peace, and God be with you."
"Do you mean I am a prisoner?" demanded Denis.
"I state the facts," replied the other. "I would rather leave the
conclusion to yourself."
Denis sat down again. Externally he managed to keep pretty calm;
but within, he was now boiling with anger, now chilled with
apprehension. He no longer felt convinced that he was dealing with
a madman. And if the old gentleman was sane, what, in God's name,
had he to look for? What absurd or tragical adventure had befallen
him? What countenance was he to assume?
While he was thus unpleasantly reflecting, the arras that overhung
the chapel door was raised, and a tall priest in his robes came
forth and, giving a long, keen stare at Denis, said something in an
undertone to Sire de Maletroit.
"She is in a better frame of spirit?" asked the latter.
"She is more resigned, messire," replied the priest.
"Now the Lord help her, she is hard to please!" sneered the old
gentleman. "A likely stripling - not ill-born - and of her own
choosing, too? Why, what more would the jade have?"
"The situation is not usual for a young damsel," said the other,
"and somewhat trying to her blushes."
"She should have thought of that before she began the dance. It
was none of my choosing, God knows that: but since she is in it,
by our Lady, she shall carry it to the end." And then addressing
Denis, "Monsieur de Beaulieu," he asked, "may I present you to my
niece? She has been waiting your arrival, I may say, with even
greater impatience than myself."
Denis had resigned himself with a good grace - all he desired was
to know the worst of it as speedily as possible; so he rose at
once, and bowed in acquiescence. The Sire de Maletroit followed
his example and limped, with the assistance of the chaplain's arm,
towards the chapel door. The priest pulled aside the arras, and
all three entered. The building had considerable architectural
pretensions. A light groining sprang from six stout columns, and
hung down in two rich pendants from the centre of the vault. The
place terminated behind the altar in a round end, embossed and
honeycombed with a superfluity of ornament in relief, and pierced
by many little windows shaped like stars, trefoils, or wheels.
These windows were imperfectly glazed, so that the night air
circulated freely in the chapel. The tapers, of which there must
have been half a hundred burning on the altar, were unmercifully
blown about; and the light went through many different phases of
brilliancy and semi-eclipse. On the steps in front of the altar
knelt a young girl richly attired as a bride. A chill settled over
Denis as he observed her costume; he fought with desperate energy
against the conclusion that was being thrust upon his mind; it
could not - it should not - be as he feared.
"Blanche," said the Sire, in his most flute-like tones, "I have
brought a friend to see you, my little girl; turn round and give
him your pretty hand. It is good to be devout; but it is necessary
to be polite, my niece."
The girl rose to her feet and turned towards the new comers. She
moved all of a piece; and shame and exhaustion were expressed in
every line of her fresh young body; and she held her head down and
kept her eyes upon the pavement, as she came slowly forward. In
the course of her advance, her eyes fell upon Denis de Beaulieu's
feet - feet of which he was justly vain, be it remarked, and wore
in the most elegant accoutrement even while travelling. She paused
- started, as if his yellow boots had conveyed some shocking
meaning - and glanced suddenly up into the wearer's countenance.
Their eyes met; shame gave place to horror and terror in her looks;
the blood left her lips; with a piercing scream she covered her
face with her hands and sank upon the chapel floor.
"That is not the man!" she cried. "My uncle, that in not the man!"
The Sire de Maletroit chirped agreeably. "Of course not," he said;
"I expected as much. It was so unfortunate you could not remember
his name."
"Indeed," she cried, "indeed, I have never seen this person till
this moment - I have never so much as set eyes upon him - I never
wish to see him again. Sir," she said, turning to Denis, "if you
are a gentleman, you will bear me out. Have I ever seen you - have
you ever seen me - before this accursed hour?"
"To speak for myself, I have never had that pleasure," answered the
young man. "This is the first time, messire, that I have met with
your engaging niece."
The old gentleman shrugged his shoulders.
"I am distressed to hear it," he said. "But it is never too late
to begin. I had little more acquaintance with my own late lady ere
I married her; which proves," he added with a grimace, "that these
impromptu marriages may often produce an excellent understanding in
the long-run. As the bridegroom is to have a voice in the matter,
I will give him two hours to make up for lost time before we
proceed with the ceremony." And he turned towards the door,
followed by the clergyman.
The girl was on her feet in a moment. "My uncle, you cannot be in
earnest," she said. "I declare before God I will stab myself
rather than be forced on that young man. The heart rises at it;
God forbids such marriages; you dishonour your white hair. Oh, my
uncle, pity me! There is not a woman in all the world but would
prefer death to such a nuptial. Is it possible," she added,
faltering - "is it possible that you do not believe me - that you
still think this" - and she pointed at Denis with a tremor of anger
and contempt - "that you still think THIS to be the man?"
"Frankly," said the old gentleman, pausing on the threshold, "I do.
But let me explain to you once for all, Blanche de Maletroit, my
way of thinking about this affair. When you took it into your head
to dishonour my family and the name that I have borne, in peace and
war, for more than three-score years, you forfeited, not only the
right to question my designs, but that of looking me in the face.
If your father had been alive, he would have spat on you and turned
you out of doors. His was the hand of iron. You may bless your
God you have only to deal with the hand of velvet, mademoiselle.
It was my duty to get you married without delay. Out of pure
goodwill, I have tried to find your own gallant for you. And I
believe I have succeeded. But before God and all the holy angels,
Blanche de Maletroit, if I have not, I care not one jack-straw. So
let me recommend you to be polite to our young friend; for upon my
word, your next groom may be less appetising."
And with that he went out, with the chaplain at his heels; and the
arras fell behind the pair.
The girl turned upon Denis with flashing eyes.
"And what, sir," she demanded, "may be the meaning of all this?"
"God knows," returned Denis gloomily. "I am a prisoner in this
house, which seems full of mad people. More I know not; and
nothing do I understand."
"And pray how came you here?" she asked.
He told her as briefly as he could. "For the rest," he added,
"perhaps you will follow my example, and tell me the answer to all
these riddles, and what, in God's name, is like to be the end of
She stood silent for a little, and he could see her lips tremble
and her tearless eyes burn with a feverish lustre. Then she
pressed her forehead in both hands.
"Alas, how my head aches!" she said wearily - "to say nothing of my
poor heart! But it is due to you to know my story, unmaidenly as
it must seem. I am called Blanche de Maletroit; I have been
without father or mother for - oh! for as long as I can recollect,
and indeed I have been most unhappy all my life. Three months ago
a young captain began to stand near me every day in church. I
could see that I pleased him; I am much to blame, but I was so glad
that any one should love me; and when he passed me a letter, I took
it home with me and read it with great pleasure. Since that time
he has written many. He was so anxious to speak with me, poor
fellow! and kept asking me to leave the door open some evening that
we might have two words upon the stair. For he knew how much my
uncle trusted me." She gave something like a sob at that, and it
was a moment before she could go on. "My uncle is a hard man, but
he is very shrewd," she said at last. "He has performed many feats
in war, and was a great person at court, and much trusted by Queen
Isabeau in old days. How he came to suspect me I cannot tell; but
it is hard to keep anything from his knowledge; and this morning,
as we came from mass, he took my hand in his, forced it open, and
read my little billet, walking by my side all the while. When he
had finished, he gave it back to me with great politeness. It
contained another request to have the door left open; and this has
been the ruin of us all. My uncle kept me strictly in my room
until evening, and then ordered me to dress myself as you see me -
a hard mockery for a young girl, do you not think so? I suppose,
when he could not prevail with me to tell him the young captain's
name, he must have laid a trap for him: into which, alas! you have
fallen in the anger of God. I looked for much confusion; for how
could I tell whether he was willing to take me for his wife on
these sharp terms? He might have been trifling with me from the
first; or I might have made myself too cheap in his eyes. But
truly I had not looked for such a shameful punishment as this! I
could not think that God would let a girl be so disgraced before a
young man. And now I have told you all; and I can scarcely hope
that you will not despise me."
Denis made her a respectful inclination.
"Madam," he said, "you have honoured me by your confidence. It
remains for me to prove that I am not unworthy of the honour. Is
Messire de Maletroit at hand?"
"I believe he is writing in the salle without," she answered.
"May I lead you thither, madam?" asked Denis, offering his hand
with his most courtly bearing.
She accepted it; and the pair passed out of the chapel, Blanche in
a very drooping and shamefast condition, but Denis strutting and
ruffling in the consciousness of a mission, and the boyish
certainty of accomplishing it with honour.
The Sire de Maletroit rose to meet them with an ironical obeisance.
"Sir," said Denis, with the grandest possible air, "I believe I am
to have some say in the matter of this marriage; and let me tell
you at once, I will be no party to forcing the inclination of this
young lady. Had it been freely offered to me, I should have been
proud to accept her hand, for I perceive she is as good as she is
beautiful; but as things are, I have now the honour, messire, of
Blanche looked at him with gratitude in her eyes; but the old
gentleman only smiled and smiled, until his smile grew positively
sickening to Denis.
"I am afraid," he said, "Monsieur de Beaulieu, that you do not
perfectly understand the choice I have to offer you. Follow me, I
beseech you, to this window." And he led the way to one of the
large windows which stood open on the night. "You observe," he
went on, "there is an iron ring in the upper masonry, and reeved
through that, a very efficacious rope. Now, mark my words; if you
should find your disinclination to my niece's person
insurmountable, I shall have you hanged out of this window before
sunrise. I shall only proceed to such an extremity with the
greatest regret, you may believe me. For it is not at all your
death that I desire, but my niece's establishment in life. At the
same time, it must come to that if you prove obstinate. Your
family, Monsieur de Beaulieu, is very well in its way; but if you
sprang from Charlemagne, you should not refuse the hand of a
Maletroit with impunity - not if she had been as common as the
Paris road - not if she were as hideous as the gargoyle over my
door. Neither my niece nor you, nor my own private feelings, move
me at all in this matter. The honour of my house has been
compromised; I believe you to be the guilty person; at least you
are now in the secret; and you can hardly wonder if I request you
to wipe out the stain. If you will not, your blood be on your own
head! It will be no great satisfaction to me to have your
interesting relics kicking their heels in the breeze below my
windows; but half a loaf is better than no bread, and if I cannot
cure the dishonour, I shall at least stop the scandal."
There was a pause.
"I believe there are other ways of settling such imbroglios among
gentlemen," said Denis. "You wear a sword, and I hear you have
used it with distinction."
The Sire de Maletroit made a signal to the chaplain, who crossed
the room with long silent strides and raised the arras over the
third of the three doors. It was only a moment before he let it
fall again; but Denis had time to see a dusky passage full of armed
"When I was a little younger, I should have been delighted to
honour you, Monsieur de Beaulieu," said Sire Alain; "but I am now
too old. Faithful retainers are the sinews of age, and I must
employ the strength I have. This is one of the hardest things to
swallow as a man grows up in years; but with a little patience,
even this becomes habitual. You and the lady seem to prefer the
salle for what remains of your two hours; and as I have no desire
to cross your preference, I shall resign it to your use with all
the pleasure in the world. No haste!" he added, holding up his
hand, as he saw a dangerous look come into Denis de Beaulieu's
face. "If your mind revolts against hanging, it will be time
enough two hours hence to throw yourself out of the window or upon
the pikes of my retainers. Two hours of life are always two hours.
A great many things may turn up in even as little a while as that.
And, besides, if I understand her appearance, my niece has still
something to say to you. You will not disfigure your last hours by
a want of politeness to a lady?"
Denis looked at Blanche, and she made him an imploring gesture.
It is likely that the old gentleman was hugely pleased at this
symptom of an understanding; for he smiled on both, and added
sweetly: "If you will give me your word of honour, Monsieur de
Beaulieu, to await my return at the end of the two hours before
attempting anything desperate, I shall withdraw my retainers, and
let you speak in greater privacy with mademoiselle."
Denis again glanced at the girl, who seemed to beseech him to
"I give you my word of honour," he said.
Messire de Maletroit bowed, and proceeded to limp about the
apartment, clearing his throat the while with that odd musical
chirp which had already grown so irritating in the ears of Denis de
Beaulieu. He first possessed himself of some papers which lay upon
the table; then he went to the mouth of the passage and appeared to
give an order to the men behind the arras; and lastly he hobbled
out through the door by which Denis had come in, turning upon the
threshold to address a last smiling bow to the young couple, and
followed by the chaplain with a hand-lamp.
No sooner were they alone than Blanche advanced towards Denis with
her hands extended. Her face was flushed and excited, and her eyes
shone with tears.
"You shall not die!" she cried, "you shall marry me after all."
"You seem to think, madam," replied Denis, "that I stand much in
fear of death."
"Oh no, no," she said, "I see you are no poltroon. It is for my
own sake - I could not bear to have you slain for such a scruple."
"I am afraid," returned Denis, "that you underrate the difficulty,
madam. What you may be too generous to refuse, I may be too proud
to accept. In a moment of noble feeling towards me, you forgot
what you perhaps owe to others."
He had the decency to keep his eyes upon the floor as he said this,
and after he had finished, so as not to spy upon her confusion.
She stood silent for a moment, then walked suddenly away, and
falling on her uncle's chair, fairly burst out sobbing. Denis was
in the acme of embarrassment. He looked round, as if to seek for
inspiration, and seeing a stool, plumped down upon it for something
to do. There he sat, playing with the guard of his rapier, and
wishing himself dead a thousand times over, and buried in the
nastiest kitchen-heap in France. His eyes wandered round the
apartment, but found nothing to arrest them. There were such wide
spaces between the furniture, the light fell so baldly and
cheerlessly over all, the dark outside air looked in so coldly
through the windows, that he thought he had never seen a church so
vast, nor a tomb so melancholy. The regular sobs of Blanche de
Maletroit measured out the time like the ticking of a clock. He
read the device upon the shield over and over again, until his eyes
became obscured; he stared into shadowy corners until he imagined
they were swarming with horrible animals; and every now and again
he awoke with a start, to remember that his last two hours were
running, and death was on the march.
Oftener and oftener, as the time went on, did his glance settle on
the girl herself. Her face was bowed forward and covered with her
hands, and she was shaken at intervals by the convulsive hiccup of
grief. Even thus she was not an unpleasant object to dwell upon,
so plump and yet so fine, with a warm brown skin, and the most
beautiful hair, Denis thought, in the whole world of womankind.
Her hands were like her uncle's; but they were more in place at the
end of her young arms, and looked infinitely soft and caressing.
He remembered how her blue eyes had shone upon him, full of anger,
pity, and innocence. And the more he dwelt on her perfections, the
uglier death looked, and the more deeply was he smitten with
penitence at her continued tears. Now he felt that no man could
have the courage to leave a world which contained so beautiful a
creature; and now he would have given forty minutes of his last
hour to have unsaid his cruel speech.
Suddenly a hoarse and ragged peal of cockcrow rose to their ears
from the dark valley below the windows. And this shattering noise
in the silence of all around was like a light in a dark place, and
shook them both out of their reflections.
"Alas, can I do nothing to help you?" she said, looking up.
"Madam," replied Denis, with a fine irrelevancy, "if I have said
anything to wound you, believe me, it was for your own sake and not
for mine."
She thanked him with a tearful look.
"I feel your position cruelly," he went on. "The world has been
bitter hard on you. Your uncle is a disgrace to mankind. Believe
me, madam, there is no young gentleman in all France but would be
glad of my opportunity, to die in doing you a momentary service."
"I know already that you can be very brave and generous," she
answered. "What I WANT to know is whether I can serve you - now or
afterwards," she added, with a quaver.
"Most certainly," he answered with a smile. "Let me sit beside you
as if I were a friend, instead of a foolish intruder; try to forget
how awkwardly we are placed to one another; make my last moments go
pleasantly; and you will do me the chief service possible."
"You are very gallant," she added, with a yet deeper sadness . . .
"very gallant . . . and it somehow pains me. But draw nearer, if
you please; and if you find anything to say to me, you will at
least make certain of a very friendly listener. Ah! Monsieur de
Beaulieu," she broke forth - "ah! Monsieur de Beaulieu, how can I
look you in the face?" And she fell to weeping again with a
renewed effusion.
"Madam," said Denis, taking her hand in both of his, "reflect on
the little time I have before me, and the great bitterness into
which I am cast by the sight of your distress. Spare me, in my
last moments, the spectacle of what I cannot cure even with the
sacrifice of my life."
"I am very selfish," answered Blanche. "I will be braver, Monsieur
de Beaulieu, for your sake. But think if I can do you no kindness
in the future - if you have no friends to whom I could carry your
adieux. Charge me as heavily as you can; every burden will
lighten, by so little, the invaluable gratitude I owe you. Put it
in my power to do something more for you than weep."
"My mother is married again, and has a young family to care for.
My brother Guichard will inherit my fiefs; and if I am not in
error, that will content him amply for my death. Life is a little
vapour that passeth away, as we are told by those in holy orders.
When a man is in a fair way and sees all life open in front of him,
he seems to himself to make a very important figure in the world.
His horse whinnies to him; the trumpets blow and the girls look out
of window as he rides into town before his company; he receives
many assurances of trust and regard - sometimes by express in a
letter - sometimes face to face, with persons of great consequence
falling on his neck. It is not wonderful if his head is turned for
a time. But once he is dead, were he as brave as Hercules or as
wise as Solomon, he is soon forgotten. It is not ten years since
my father fell, with many other knights around him, in a very
fierce encounter, and I do not think that any one of them, nor so
much as the name of the fight, is now remembered. No, no, madam,
the nearer you come to it, you see that death is a dark and dusty
corner, where a man gets into his tomb and has the door shut after
him till the judgment day. I have few friends just now, and once I
am dead I shall have none."
"Ah, Monsieur de Beaulieu!" she exclaimed, "you forget Blanche de
"You have a sweet nature, madam, and you are pleased to estimate a
little service far beyond its worth."
"It is not that," she answered. "You mistake me if you think I am
so easily touched by my own concerns. I say so, because you are
the noblest man I have ever met; because I recognise in you a
spirit that would have made even a common person famous in the
"And yet here I die in a mouse-trap - with no more noise about it
than my own squeaking," answered he.
A look of pain crossed her face, and she was silent for a little
while. Then a fight came into her eyes, and with a smile she spoke
"I cannot have my champion think meanly of himself. Any one who
gives his life for another will be met in Paradise by all the
heralds and angels of the Lord God. And you have no such cause to
hang your head. For . . . Pray, do you think me beautiful?" she
asked, with a deep flush.
"Indeed, madam, I do," he said.
"I am glad of that," she answered heartily. "Do you think there
are many men in France who have been asked in marriage by a
beautiful maiden - with her own lips - and who have refused her to
her face? I know you men would half despise such a triumph; but
believe me, we women know more of what is precious in love. There
is nothing that should set a person higher in his own esteem; and
we women would prize nothing more dearly."
"You are very good," he said; "but you cannot make me forget that I
was asked in pity and not for love."
"I am not so sure of that," she replied, holding down her head.
"Hear me to an end, Monsieur de Beaulieu. I know how you must
despise me; I feel you are right to do so; I am too poor a creature
to occupy one thought of your mind, although, alas! you must die
for me this morning. But when I asked you to marry me, indeed, and
indeed, it was because I respected and admired you, and loved you
with my whole soul, from the very moment that you took my part
against my uncle. If you had seen yourself, and how noble you
looked, you would pity rather than despise me. And now," she went
on, hurriedly checking him with her hand, "although I have laid
aside all reserve and told you so much, remember that I know your
sentiments towards me already. I would not, believe me, being
nobly born, weary you with importunities into consent. I too have
a pride of my own: and I declare before the holy mother of God, if
you should now go back from your word already given, I would no
more marry you than I would marry my uncle's groom."
Denis smiled a little bitterly.
"It is a small love," he said, "that shies at a little pride."
She made no answer, although she probably had her own thoughts.
"Come hither to the window," he said, with a sigh. "Here is the
And indeed the dawn was already beginning. The hollow of the sky
was full of essential daylight, colourless and clean; and the
valley underneath was flooded with a grey reflection. A few thin
vapours clung in the coves of the forest or lay along the winding
course of the river. The scene disengaged a surprising effect of
stillness, which was hardly interrupted when the cocks began once
more to crow among the steadings. Perhaps the same fellow who had
made so horrid a clangour in the darkness not half-an-hour before,
now sent up the merriest cheer to greet the coming day. A little
wind went bustling and eddying among the tree-tops underneath the
windows. And still the daylight kept flooding insensibly out of
the east, which was soon to grow incandescent and cast up that redhot
cannon-ball, the rising sun.
Denis looked out over all this with a bit of a shiver. He had
taken her hand, and retained it in his almost unconsciously.
"Has the day begun already?" she said; and then, illogically
enough: "the night has been so long! Alas, what shall we say to
my uncle when he returns?"
"What you will," said Denis, and he pressed her fingers in his.
She was silent.
"Blanche," he said, with a swift, uncertain, passionate utterance,
"you have seen whether I fear death. You must know well enough
that I would as gladly leap out of that window into the empty air
as lay a finger on you without your free and full consent. But if
you care for me at all do not let me lose my life in a
misapprehension; for I love you better than the whole world; and
though I will die for you blithely, it would be like all the joys
of Paradise to live on and spend my life in your service."
As he stopped speaking, a bell began to ring loudly in the interior
of the house; and a clatter of armour in the corridor showed that
the retainers were returning to their post, and the two hours were
at an end.
"After all that you have heard?" she whispered, leaning towards him
with her lips and eyes.
"I have heard nothing," he replied.
"The captain's name was Florimond de Champdivers," she said in his
"I did not hear it," he answered, taking her supple body in his
arms and covering her wet face with kisses.
A melodious chirping was audible behind, followed by a beautiful
chuckle, and the voice of Messire de Maletroit wished his new
nephew a good morning.
Monsieur Leon Berthelini had a great care of his appearance, and
sedulously suited his deportment to the costume of the hour. He
affected something Spanish in his air, and something of the bandit,
with a flavour of Rembrandt at home. In person he was decidedly
small and inclined to be stout; his face was the picture of good
humour; his dark eyes, which were very expressive, told of a kind
heart, a brisk, merry nature, and the most indefatigable spirits.
If he had worn the clothes of the period you would have set him
down for a hitherto undiscovered hybrid between the barber, the
innkeeper, and the affable dispensing chemist. But in the
outrageous bravery of velvet jacket and flapped hat, with trousers
that were more accurately described as fleshings, a white
handkerchief cavalierly knotted at his neck, a shock of Olympian
curls upon his brow, and his feet shod through all weathers in the
slenderest of Moliere shoes - you had but to look at him and you
knew you were in the presence of a Great Creature. When he wore an
overcoat he scorned to pass the sleeves; a single button held it
round his shoulders; it was tossed backwards after the manner of a
cloak, and carried with the gait and presence of an Almaviva. I am
of opinion that M. Berthelini was nearing forty. But he had a
boy's heart, gloried in his finery, and walked through life like a
child in a perpetual dramatic performance. If he were not Almaviva
after all, it was not for lack of making believe. And he enjoyed
the artist's compensation. If he were not really Almaviva, he was
sometimes just as happy as though he were.
I have seen him, at moments when he has fancied himself alone with
his Maker, adopt so gay and chivalrous a bearing, and represent his
own part with so much warmth and conscience, that the illusion
became catching, and I believed implicitly in the Great Creature's
But, alas! life cannot be entirely conducted on these principles;
man cannot live by Almavivery alone; and the Great Creature, having
failed upon several theatres, was obliged to step down every
evening from his heights, and sing from half-a-dozen to a dozen
comic songs, twang a guitar, keep a country audience in good
humour, and preside finally over the mysteries of a tombola.
Madame Berthelini, who was art and part with him in these
undignified labours, had perhaps a higher position in the scale of
beings, and enjoyed a natural dignity of her own. But her heart
was not any more rightly placed, for that would have been
impossible; and she had acquired a little air of melancholy,
attractive enough in its way, but not good to see like the
wholesome, sky-scraping, boyish spirits of her lord.
He, indeed, swam like a kite on a fair wind, high above earthly
troubles. Detonations of temper were not unfrequent in the zones
he travelled; but sulky fogs and tearful depressions were there
alike unknown. A well-delivered blow upon a table, or a noble
attitude, imitated from Melingne or Frederic, relieved his
irritation like a vengeance. Though the heaven had fallen, if he
had played his part with propriety, Berthelini had been content!
And the man's atmosphere, if not his example, reacted on his wife;
for the couple doated on each other, and although you would have
thought they walked in different worlds, yet continued to walk hand
in hand.
It chanced one day that Monsieur and Madame Berthelini descended
with two boxes and a guitar in a fat case at the station of the
little town of Castel-le-Gachis, and the omnibus carried them with
their effects to the Hotel of the Black Head. This was a dismal,
conventual building in a narrow street, capable of standing siege
when once the gates were shut, and smelling strangely in the
interior of straw and chocolate and old feminine apparel.
Berthelini paused upon the threshold with a painful premonition.
In some former state, it seemed to him, he had visited a hostelry
that smelt not otherwise, and been ill received.
The landlord, a tragic person in a large felt hat, rose from a
business table under the key-rack, and came forward, removing his
hat with both hands as he did so.
"Sir, I salute you. May I inquire what is your charge for
artists?" inquired Berthelini, with a courtesy at once splendid and
"For artists?" said the landlord. His countenance fell and the
smile of welcome disappeared. "Oh, artists!" he added brutally;
"four francs a day." And he turned his back upon these
inconsiderable customers.
A commercial traveller is received, he also, upon a reduction - yet
is he welcome, yet can he command the fatted calf; but an artist,
had he the manners of an Almaviva, were he dressed like Solomon in
all his glory, is received like a dog and served like a timid lady
travelling alone.
Accustomed as he was to the rubs of his profession, Berthelini was
unpleasantly affected by the landlord's manner.
"Elvira," said he to his wife, "mark my words: Castel-le-Gachis is
a tragic folly."
"Wait till we see what we take," replied Elvira.
"We shall take nothing," returned Berthelini; "we shall feed upon
insults. I have an eye, Elvira: I have a spirit of divination;
and this place is accursed. The landlord has been discourteous,
the Commissary will be brutal, the audience will be sordid and
uproarious, and you will take a cold upon your throat. We have
been besotted enough to come; the die is cast - it will be a second
Sedan was a town hateful to the Berthelinis, not only from
patriotism (for they were French, and answered after the flesh to
the somewhat homely name of Duval), but because it had been the
scene of their most sad reverses. In that place they had lain
three weeks in pawn for their hotel bill, and had it not been for a
surprising stroke of fortune they might have been lying there in
pawn until this day. To mention the name of Sedan was for the
Berthelinis to dip the brush in earthquake and eclipse. Count
Almaviva slouched his hat with a gesture expressive of despair, and
even Elvira felt as if ill-fortune had been personally invoked.
"Let us ask for breakfast," said she, with a woman's tact.
The Commissary of Police of Castel-le-Gachis was a large red
Commissary, pimpled, and subject to a strong cutaneous
transpiration. I have repeated the name of his office because he
was so very much more a Commissary than a man. The spirit of his
dignity had entered into him. He carried his corporation as if it
were something official. Whenever he insulted a common citizen it
seemed to him as if he were adroitly flattering the Government by a
side wind; in default of dignity he was brutal from an overweening
sense of duty. His office was a den, whence passers-by could hear
rude accents laying down, not the law, but the good pleasure of the
Six several times in the course of the day did M. Berthelini hurry
thither in quest of the requisite permission for his evening's
entertainment; six several times he found the official was abroad.
Leon Berthelini began to grow quite a familiar figure in the
streets of Castel-le-Gachis; he became a local celebrity, and was
pointed out as "the man who was looking for the Commissary." Idle
children attached themselves to his footsteps, and trotted after
him back and forward between the hotel and the office. Leon might
try as he liked; he might roll cigarettes, he might straddle, he
might cock his hat at a dozen different jaunty inclinations - the
part of Almaviva was, under the circumstances, difficult to play.
As he passed the market-place upon the seventh excursion the
Commissary was pointed out to him, where he stood, with his
waistcoat unbuttoned and his hands behind his back, to superintend
the sale and measurement of butter. Berthelini threaded his way
through the market stalls and baskets, and accosted the dignitary
with a bow which was a triumph of the histrionic art.
"I have the honour," he asked, "of meeting M. le Commissaire?"
The Commissary was affected by the nobility of his address. He
excelled Leon in the depth if not in the airy grace of his
"The honour," said he, "is mine!"
"I am," continued the strolling-player, "I am, sir, an artist, and
I have permitted myself to interrupt you on an affair of business.
To-night I give a trifling musical entertainment at the Cafe of the
Triumphs of the Plough - permit me to offer you this little
programme - and I have come to ask you for the necessary
At the word "artist," the Commissary had replaced his hat with the
air of a person who, having condescended too far, should suddenly
remember the duties of his rank.
"Go, go," said he, "I am busy - I am measuring butter."
"Heathen Jew!" thought Leon. "Permit me, sir," he resumed aloud.
"I have gone six times already - "
"Put up your bills if you choose," interrupted the Commissary. "In
an hour or so I will examine your papers at the office. But now
go; I am busy."
"Measuring butter!" thought Berthelini. "Oh, France, and it is for
this that we made '93!"
The preparations were soon made; the bills posted, programmes laid
on the dinner-table of every hotel in the town, and a stage erected
at one end of the Cafe of the Triumphs of the Plough; but when Leon
returned to the office, the Commissary was once more abroad.
"He is like Madame Benoiton," thought Leon, "Fichu Commissaire!"
And just then he met the man face to face.
"Here, sir," said he, "are my papers. Will you be pleased to
But the Commissary was now intent upon dinner.
"No use," he replied, "no use; I am busy; I am quite satisfied.
Give your entertainment."
And he hurried on.
"Fichu Commissaire!" thought Leon.
The audience was pretty large; and the proprietor of the cafe made
a good thing of it in beer. But the Berthelinis exerted themselves
in vain.
Leon was radiant in velveteen; he had a rakish way of smoking a
cigarette between his songs that was worth money in itself; he
underlined his comic points, so that the dullest numskull in
Castel-le-Gachis had a notion when to laugh; and he handled his
guitar in a manner worthy of himself. Indeed his play with that
instrument was as good as a whole romantic drama; it was so
dashing, so florid, and so cavalier.
Elvira, on the other hand, sang her patriotic and romantic songs
with more than usual expression; her voice had charm and plangency;
and as Leon looked at her, in her low-bodied maroon dress, with her
arms bare to the shoulder, and a red flower set provocatively in
her corset, he repeated to himself for the many hundredth time that
she was one of the loveliest creatures in the world of women.
Alas! when she went round with the tambourine, the golden youth of
Castel-le-Gachis turned from her coldly. Here and there a single
halfpenny was forthcoming; the net result of a collection never
exceeded half a franc; and the Maire himself, after seven different
applications, had contributed exactly twopence. A certain chill
began to settle upon the artists themselves; it seemed as if they
were singing to slugs; Apollo himself might have lost heart with
such an audience. The Berthelinis struggled against the
impression; they put their back into their work, they sang loud and
louder, the guitar twanged like a living thing; and at last Leon
arose in his might, and burst with inimitable conviction into his
great song, "Y a des honnetes gens partout!" Never had he given
more proof of his artistic mastery; it was his intimate,
indefeasible conviction that Castel-le-Gachis formed an exception
to the law he was now lyrically proclaiming, and was peopled
exclusively by thieves and bullies; and yet, as I say, he flung it
down like a challenge, he trolled it forth like an article of
faith; and his face so beamed the while that you would have thought
he must make converts of the benches.
He was at the top of his register, with his head thrown back and
his mouth open, when the door was thrown violently open, and a pair
of new comers marched noisily into the cafe. It was the
Commissary, followed by the Garde Champetre.
The undaunted Berthelini still continued to proclaim, "Y a des
honnetes gens partout!" But now the sentiment produced an audible
titter among the audience. Berthelini wondered why; he did not
know the antecedents of the Garde Champetre; he had never heard of
a little story about postage stamps. But the public knew all about
the postage stamps and enjoyed the coincidence hugely.
The Commissary planted himself upon a vacant chair with somewhat
the air of Cromwell visiting the Rump, and spoke in occasional
whispers to the Garde Champetre, who remained respectfully standing
at his back. The eyes of both were directed upon Berthelini, who
persisted in his statement.
"Y a des honnetes gens partout," he was just chanting for the
twentieth time; when up got the Commissary upon his feet and waved
brutally to the singer with his cane.
"Is it me you want?" inquired Leon, stopping in his song.
"It is you," replied the potentate.
"Fichu Commissaire!" thought Leon, and he descended from the stage
and made his way to the functionary.
"How does it happen, sir," said the Commissary, swelling in person,
"that I find you mountebanking in a public cafe without my
"Without?" cried the indignant Leon. "Permit me to remind you - "
"Come, come, sir!" said the Commissary, "I desire no explanations."
"I care nothing about what you desire," returned the singer. "I
choose to give them, and I will not be gagged. I am an artist,
sir, a distinction that you cannot comprehend. I received your
permission and stand here upon the strength of it; interfere with
me who dare."
"You have not got my signature, I tell you," cried the Commissary.
"Show me my signature! Where is my signature?"
That was just the question; where was his signature? Leon
recognised that he was in a hole; but his spirit rose with the
occasion, and he blustered nobly, tossing back his curls. The
Commissary played up to him in the character of tyrant; and as the
one leaned farther forward, the other leaned farther back - majesty
confronting fury. The audience had transferred their attention to
this new performance, and listened with that silent gravity common
to all Frenchmen in the neighbourhood of the Police. Elvira had
sat down, she was used to these distractions, and it was rather
melancholy than fear that now oppressed her.
"Another word," cried the Commissary, "and I arrest you."
"Arrest me?" shouted Leon. "I defy you!"
"I am the Commissary of Police,' said the official.
Leon commanded his feelings, and replied, with great delicacy of
innuendo -
"So it would appear."
The point was too refined for Castel-le-Gachis; it did not raise a
smile; and as for the Commissary, he simply bade the singer follow
him to his office, and directed his proud footsteps towards the
door. There was nothing for it but to obey. Leon did so with a
proper pantomime of indifference, but it was a leek to eat, and
there was no denying it.
The Maire had slipped out and was already waiting at the
Commissary's door. Now the Maire, in France, is the refuge of the
oppressed. He stands between his people and the boisterous rigours
of the Police. He can sometimes understand what is said to him; he
is not always puffed up beyond measure by his dignity. 'Tis a
thing worth the knowledge of travellers. When all seems over, and
a man has made up his mind to injustice, he has still, like the
heroes of romance, a little bugle at his belt whereon to blow; and
the Maire, a comfortable DEUS EX MACHINA, may still descend to
deliver him from the minions of the law. The Maire of Castel-le-
Gachis, although inaccessible to the charms of music as retailed by
the Berthelinis, had no hesitation whatever as to the rights of the
matter. He instantly fell foul of the Commissary in very high
terms, and the Commissary, pricked by this humiliation, accepted
battle on the point of fact. The argument lasted some little while
with varying success, until at length victory inclined so plainly
to the Commissary's side that the Maire was fain to reassert
himself by an exercise of authority. He had been out-argued, but
he was still the Maire. And so, turning from his interlocutor, he
briefly but kindly recommended Leon to get back instanter to his
"It is already growing late," he added.
Leon did not wait to be told twice. He returned to the Cafe of the
Triumphs of the Plough with all expedition. Alas! the audience had
melted away during his absence; Elvira was sitting in a very
disconsolate attitude on the guitar-box; she had watched the
company dispersing by twos and threes, and the prolonged spectacle
had somewhat overwhelmed her spirits. Each man, she reflected,
retired with a certain proportion of her earnings in his pocket,
and she saw to-night's board and to-morrow's railway expenses, and
finally even to-morrow's dinner, walk one after another out of the
cafe door and disappear into the night.
"What was it?" she asked languidly. But Leon did not answer. He
was looking round him on the scene of defeat. Scarce a score of
listeners remained, and these of the least promising sort. The
minute hand of the clock was already climbing upward towards
"It's a lost battle," said he, and then taking up the money-box he
turned it out. "Three francs seventy-five!" he cried, "as against
four of board and six of railway fares; and no time for the
tombola! Elvira, this is Waterloo." And he sat down and passed
both hands desperately among his curls. "O Fichu Commissaire!" he
cried, "Fichu Commissaire!"
"Let us get the things together and be off," returned Elvira. "We
might try another song, but there is not six halfpence in the
"Six halfpence?" cried Leon, "six hundred thousand devils! There
is not a human creature in the town - nothing but pigs and dogs and
commissaires! Pray heaven, we get safe to bed."
"Don't imagine things!" exclaimed Elvira, with a shudder.
And with that they set to work on their preparations. The tobaccojar,
the cigarette-holder, the three papers of shirt-studs, which
were to have been the prices of the tombola had the tombola come
off, were made into a bundle with the music; the guitar was stowed
into the fat guitar-case; and Elvira having thrown a thin shawl
about her neck and shoulders, the pair issued from the cafe and set
off for the Black Head.
As they crossed the market-place the church bell rang out eleven.
It was a dark, mild night, and there was no one in the streets.
"It is all very fine," said Leon; "but I have a presentiment. The
night is not yet done."
The "Black Head" presented not a single chink of light upon the
street, and the carriage gate was closed.
"This is unprecedented," observed Leon. "An inn closed by five
minutes after eleven! And there were several commercial travellers
in the cafe up to a late hour. Elvira, my heart misgives me. Let
us ring the bell."
The bell had a potent note; and being swung under the arch it
filled the house from top to bottom with surly, clanging
reverberations. The sound accentuated the conventual appearance of
the building; a wintry sentiment, a thought of prayer and
mortification, took hold upon Elvira's mind; and, as for Leon, he
seemed to be reading the stage directions for a lugubrious fifth
"This is your fault," said Elvira: "this is what comes of fancying
Again Leon pulled the bell-rope; again the solemn tocsin awoke the
echoes of the inn; and ere they had died away, a light glimmered in
the carriage entrance, and a powerful voice was heard upraised and
tremulous with wrath.
"What's all this?" cried the tragic host through the spars of the
gate. "Hard upon twelve, and you come clamouring like Prussians at
the door of a respectable hotel? Oh!" he cried, "I know you now!
Common singers! People in trouble with the police! And you
present yourselves at midnight like lords and ladies? Be off with
"You will permit me to remind you," replied Leon, in thrilling
tones, "that I am a guest in your house, that I am properly
inscribed, and that I have deposited baggage to the value of four
hundred francs."
"You cannot get in at this hour," returned the man. "This is no
thieves' tavern, for mohocks and night rakes and organ-grinders."
"Brute!" cried Elvira, for the organ-grinders touched her home.
"Then I demand my baggage," said Leon, with unabated dignity.
"I know nothing of your baggage," replied the landlord.
"You detain my baggage? You dare to detain my baggage?" cried the
"Who are you?" returned the landlord. "It is dark - I cannot
recognise you."
"Very well, then - you detain my baggage," concluded Leon. "You
shall smart for this. I will weary out your life with
persecutions; I will drag you from court to court; if there is
justice to be had in France, it shall be rendered between you and
me. And I will make you a by-word - I will put you in a song - a
scurrilous song - an indecent song - a popular song - which the
boys shall sing to you in the street, and come and howl through
these spars at mid-night!"
He had gone on raising his voice at every phrase, for all the while
the landlord was very placidly retiring; and now, when the last
glimmer of light had vanished from the arch, and the last footstep
died away in the interior, Leon turned to his wife with a heroic
"Elvira," said he, "I have now a duty in life. I shall destroy
that man as Eugene Sue destroyed the concierge. Let us come at
once to the Gendarmerie and begin our vengeance."
He picked up the guitar-case, which had been propped against the
wall, and they set forth through the silent and ill-lighted town
with burning hearts.
The Gendarmerie was concealed beside the telegraph office at the
bottom of a vast court, which was partly laid out in gardens; and
here all the shepherds of the public lay locked in grateful sleep.
It took a deal of knocking to waken one; and he, when he came at
last to the door, could find no other remark but that "it was none
of his business." Leon reasoned with him, threatened him, besought
him; "here," he said, "was Madame Berthelini in evening dress - a
delicate woman - in an interesting condition" - the last was thrown
in, I fancy, for effect; and to all this the man-at-arms made the
same answer:
"It is none of my business," said he.
"Very well," said Leon, "then we shall go to the Commissary."
Thither they went; the office was closed and dark; but the house
was close by, and Leon was soon swinging the bell like a madman.
The Commissary's wife appeared at a window. She was a thread-paper
creature, and informed them that the Commissary had not yet come
"Is he at the Maire's?" demanded Leon.
She thought that was not unlikely.
"Where is the Maire's house?" he asked.
And she gave him some rather vague information on that point.
"Stay you here, Elvira," said Leon, "lest I should miss him by the
way. If, when I return, I find you here no longer, I shall follow
at once to the Black Head."
And he set out to find the Maire's. It took him some ten minutes
wandering among blind lanes, and when he arrived it was already
half-an-hour past midnight. A long white garden wall overhung by
some thick chestnuts, a door with a letter-box, and an iron bellpull,
that was all that could be seen of the Maire's domicile.
Leon took the bell-pull in both hands, and danced furiously upon
the side-walk. The bell itself was just upon the other side of the
wall, it responded to his activity, and scattered an alarming
clangour far and wide into the night.
A window was thrown open in a house across the street, and a voice
inquired the cause of this untimely uproar.
"I wish the Maire," said Leon.
"He has been in bed this hour," returned the voice.
"He must get up again," retorted Leon, and he was for tackling the
bell-pull once more.
"You will never make him hear," responded the voice. "The garden
is of great extent, the house is at the farther end, and both the
Maire and his housekeeper are deaf."
"Aha!" said Leon, pausing. "The Maire is deaf, is he? That
explains." And he thought of the evening's concert with a
momentary feeling of relief. "Ah!" he continued, "and so the Maire
is deaf, and the garden vast, and the house at the far end?"
"And you might ring all night," added the voice, "and be none the
better for it. You would only keep me awake."
"Thank you, neighbour," replied the singer. "You shall sleep."
And he made off again at his best pace for the Commissary's.
Elvira was still walking to and fro before the door.
"He has not come?" asked Leon.
"Not he," she replied.
"Good," returned Leon. "I am sure our man's inside. Let me see
the guitar-case. I shall lay this siege in form, Elvira; I am
angry; I am indignant; I am truculently inclined; but I thank my
Maker I have still a sense of fun. The unjust judge shall be
importuned in a serenade, Elvira. Set him up - and set him up."
He had the case opened by this time, struck a few chords, and fell
into an attitude which was irresistibly Spanish.
"Now," he continued, "feel your voice. Are you ready? Follow me!"
The guitar twanged, and the two voices upraised, in harmony and
with a startling loudness, the chorus of a song of old Beranger's:-
"Commissaire! Commissaire!
Colin bat sa menagere."
The stones of Castel-le-Gachis thrilled at this audacious
innovation. Hitherto had the night been sacred to repose and
nightcaps; and now what was this? Window after window was opened;
matches scratched, and candles began to flicker; swollen sleepy
faces peered forth into the starlight. There were the two figures
before the Commissary's house, each bolt upright, with head thrown
back and eyes interrogating the starry heavens; the guitar wailed,
shouted, and reverberated like half an orchestra; and the voices,
with a crisp and spirited delivery, hurled the appropriate burden
at the Commissary's window. All the echoes repeated the
functionary's name. It was more like an entr'acte in a farce of
Moliere's than a passage of real life in Castel-le-Gachis.
The Commissary, if he was not the first, was not the last of the
neighbours to yield to the influence of music, and furiously throw
open the window of his bedroom. He was beside himself with rage.
He leaned far over the window-sill, raying and gesticulating; the
tassel of his white night-cap danced like a thing of life: he
opened his mouth to dimensions hitherto unprecedented, and yet his
voice, instead of escaping from it in a roar, came forth shrill and
choked and tottering. A little more serenading, and it was clear
he would be better acquainted with the apoplexy.
I scorn to reproduce his language; he touched upon too many serious
topics by the way for a quiet story-teller. Although he was known
for a man who was prompt with his tongue, and had a power of strong
expression at command, he excelled himself so remarkably this night
that one maiden lady, who had got out of bed like the rest to hear
the serenade, was obliged to shut her window at the second clause.
Even what she had heard disquieted her conscience; and next day she
said she scarcely reckoned as a maiden lady any longer.
Leon tried to explain his predicament, but he received nothing but
threats of arrest by way of answer.
"If I come down to you!" cried the Commissary.
"Aye," said Leon, "do!"
"I will not!" cried the Commissary.
"You dare not!" answered Leon.
At that the Commissary closed his window.
"All is over," said the singer. "The serenade was perhaps illjudged.
These boors have no sense of humour."
"Let us get away from here," said Elvira, with a shiver. "All
these people looking - it is so rude and so brutal." And then
giving way once more to passion - "Brutes!" she cried aloud to the
candle-lit spectators - "brutes! brutes! brutes!"
"Sauve qui peut," said Leon. "You have done it now!"
And taking the guitar in one hand and the case in the other, he led
the way with something too precipitate to be merely called
precipitation from the scene of this absurd adventure.
To the west of Castel-le-Gachis four rows of venerable lime-trees
formed, in this starry night, a twilit avenue with two side aisles
of pitch darkness. Here and there stone benches were disposed
between the trunks. There was not a breath of wind; a heavy
atmosphere of perfume hung about the alleys; and every leaf stood
stock-still upon its twig. Hither, after vainly knocking at an inn
or two, the Berthelinis came at length to pass the night. After an
amiable contention, Leon insisted on giving his coat to Elvira, and
they sat down together on the first bench in silence. Leon made a
cigarette, which he smoked to an end, looking up into the trees,
and, beyond them, at the constellations, of which he tried vainly
to recall the names. The silence was broken by the church bell; it
rang the four quarters on a light and tinkling measure; then
followed a single deep stroke that died slowly away with a thrill;
and stillness resumed its empire.
"One," said Leon. "Four hours till daylight. It is warm; it is
starry; I have matches and tobacco. Do not let us exaggerate,
Elvira - the experience is positively charming. I feel a glow
within me; I am born again. This is the poetry of life. Think of
Cooper's novels, my dear."
"Leon," she said fiercely, "how can you talk such wicked, infamous
nonsense? To pass all night out-of-doors - it is like a nightmare!
We shall die."
"You suffer yourself to be led away," he replied soothingly. "It
is not unpleasant here; only you brood. Come, now, let us repeat a
scene. Shall we try Alceste and Celimene? No? Or a passage from
the 'Two Orphans'? Come, now, it will occupy your mind; I will
play up to you as I never have played before; I feel art moving in
my bones."
"Hold your tongue," she cried, "or you will drive me mad! Will
nothing solemnise you - not even this hideous situation?"
"Oh, hideous!" objected Leon. "Hideous is not the word. Why,
where would you be? 'Dites, la jeune belle, ou voulez-vous
aller?'" he carolled. "Well, now," he went on, opening the guitarcase,
"there's another idea for you - sing. Sing 'Dites, la jeune
belle!' It will compose your spirits, Elvira, I am sure."
And without waiting an answer he began to strum the symphony. The
first chords awoke a young man who was lying asleep upon a
neighbouring bench.
"Hullo!" cried the young man, "who are you?"
"Under which king, Bezonian?" declaimed the artist. "Speak or
Or if it was not exactly that, it was something to much the same
purpose from a French tragedy.
The young man drew near in the twilight. He was a tall, powerful,
gentlemanly fellow, with a somewhat puffy face, dressed in a grey
tweed suit, with a deer-stalker hat of the same material; and as he
now came forward he carried a knapsack slung upon one arm.
"Are you camping out here too?" he asked, with a strong English
accent. "I'm not sorry for company."
Leon explained their misadventure; and the other told them that he
was a Cambridge undergraduate on a walking tour, that he had run
short of money, could no longer pay for his night's lodging, had
already been camping out for two nights, and feared he should
require to continue the same manoeuvre for at least two nights
"Luckily, it's jolly weather," he concluded.
"You hear that, Elvira," said Leon. "Madame Berthelini," he went
on, "is ridiculously affected by this trifling occurrence. For my
part, I find it romantic and far from uncomfortable; or at least,"
he added, shifting on the stone bench, "not quite so uncomfortable
as might have been expected. But pray be seated."
"Yes," returned the undergraduate, sitting down, "it's rather nice
than otherwise when once you're used to it; only it's devilish
difficult to get washed. I like the fresh air and these stars and
"Aha!" said Leon, "Monsieur is an artist."
"An artist?" returned the other, with a blank stare. "Not if I
know it!"
"Pardon me," said the actor. "What you said this moment about the
orbs of heaven - "
"Oh, nonsense!" cried the Englishman. "A fellow may admire the
stars and be anything he likes."
"You have an artist's nature, however, Mr.- I beg your pardon; may
I, without indiscretion, inquire your name?" asked Leon.
"My name is Stubbs," replied the Englishman.
"I thank you," returned Leon. "Mine is Berthelini - Leon
Berthelini, ex-artist of the theatres of Montrouge, Belleville, and
Montmartre. Humble as you see me, I have created with applause
more than one important ROLE. The Press were unanimous in praise
of my Howling Devil of the Mountains, in the piece of the same
name. Madame, whom I now present to you, is herself an artist, and
I must not omit to state, a better artist than her husband. She
also is a creator; she created nearly twenty successful songs at
one of the principal Parisian music-halls. But, to continue, I was
saying you had an artist's nature, Monsieur Stubbs, and you must
permit me to be a judge in such a question. I trust you will not
falsify your instincts; let me beseech you to follow the career of
an artist."
"Thank you," returned Stubbs, with a chuckle. "I'm going to be a
"No," said Leon, "do not say so. Not that. A man with such a
nature as yours should not derogate so far. What are a few
privations here and there, so long as you are working for a high
and noble goal?"
"This fellow's mad," thought Stubbs; "but the woman's rather
pretty, and he's not bad fun himself, if you come to that." What
he said was different. "I thought you said you were an actor?"
"I certainly did so," replied Leon. "I am one, or, alas! I was."
"And so you want me to be an actor, do you?" continued the
undergraduate. "Why, man, I could never so much as learn the
stuff; my memory's like a sieve; and as for acting, I've no more
idea than a cat."
"The stage is not the only course," said Leon. "Be a sculptor, be
a dancer, be a poet or a novelist; follow your heart, in short, and
do some thorough work before you die."
"And do you call all these things ART?" inquired Stubbs.
"Why, certainly!" returned Leon. "Are they not all branches?"
"Oh! I didn't know," replied the Englishman. "I thought an artist
meant a fellow who painted."
The singer stared at him in some surprise.
"It is the difference of language," he said at last. "This Tower
of Babel, when shall we have paid for it? If I could speak English
you would follow me more readily."
"Between you and me, I don't believe I should," replied the other.
"You seem to have thought a devil of a lot about this business.
For my part, I admire the stars, and like to have them shining -
it's so cheery - but hang me if I had an idea it had anything to do
with art! It's not in my line, you see. I'm not intellectual; I
have no end of trouble to scrape through my exams., I can tell you!
But I'm not a bad sort at bottom," he added, seeing his
interlocutor looked distressed even in the dim starshine, "and I
rather like the play, and music, and guitars, and things."
Leon had a perception that the understanding was incomplete. He
changed the subject.
"And so you travel on foot?" he continued. "How romantic! How
courageous! And how are you pleased with my land? How does the
scenery affect you among these wild hills of ours?"
"Well, the fact is," began Stubbs - he was about to say that he
didn't care for scenery, which was not at all true, being, on the
contrary, only an athletic undergraduate pretension; but he had
begun to suspect that Berthelini liked a different sort of meat,
and substituted something else - "The fact is, I think it jolly.
They told me it was no good up here; even the guide-book said so;
but I don't know what they meant. I think it is deuced pretty -
upon my word, I do."
At this moment, in the most unexpected manner, Elvira burst into
"My voice!" she cried. "Leon, if I stay here longer I shall lose
my voice!"
"You shall not stay another moment," cried the actor. "If I have
to beat in a door, if I have to burn the town, I shall find you
With that he replaced the guitar, and comforting her with some
caresses, drew her arm through his.
"Monsieur Stubbs," said he, taking of his hat, "the reception I
offer you is rather problematical; but let me beseech you to give
us the pleasure of your society. You are a little embarrassed for
the moment; you must, indeed, permit me to advance what may be
necessary. I ask it as a favour; we must not part so soon after
having met so strangely."
"Oh, come, you know," said Stubbs, "I can't let a fellow like you -
" And there he paused, feeling somehow or other on a wrong tack.
"I do not wish to employ menaces," continued Leon, with a smile;
"but if you refuse, indeed I shall not take it kindly."
"I don't quite see my way out of it," thought the undergraduate;
and then, after a pause, he said, aloud and ungraciously enough,
"All right. I - I'm very much obliged, of course." And he
proceeded to follow them, thinking in his heart, "But it's bad
form, all the same, to force an obligation on a fellow."
Leon strode ahead as if he knew exactly where he was going; the
sobs of Madame were still faintly audible, and no one uttered a
word. A dog barked furiously in a courtyard as they went by; then
the church clock struck two, and many domestic clocks followed or
preceded it in piping tones. And just then Berthelini spied a
light. It burned in a small house on the outskirts of the town,
and thither the party now directed their steps.
"It is always a chance," said Leon.
The house in question stood back from the street behind an open
space, part garden, part turnip-field; and several outhouses stood
forward from either wing at right angles to the front. One of
these had recently undergone some change. An enormous window,
looking towards the north, had been effected in the wall and roof,
and Leon began to hope it was a studio.
"If it's only a painter," he said with a chuckle, "ten to one we
get as good a welcome as we want."
"I thought painters were principally poor," said Stubbs.
"Ah!" cried Leon, "you do not know the world as I do. The poorer
the better for us!"
And the trio advanced into the turnip-field.
The light was in the ground floor; as one window was brightly
illuminated and two others more faintly, it might be supposed that
there was a single lamp in one corner of a large apartment; and a
certain tremulousness and temporary dwindling showed that a live
fire contributed to the effect. The sound of a voice now became
audible; and the trespassers paused to listen. It was pitched in a
high, angry key, but had still a good, full, and masculine note in
it. The utterance was voluble, too voluble even to be quite
distinct; a stream of words, rising and falling, with ever and
again a phrase thrown out by itself, as if the speaker reckoned on
its virtue.
Suddenly another voice joined in. This time it was a woman's; and
if the man were angry, the woman was incensed to the degree of
fury. There was that absolutely blank composure known to suffering
males; that colourless unnatural speech which shows a spirit
accurately balanced between homicide and hysterics; the tone in
which the best of women sometimes utter words worse than death to
those most dear to them. If Abstract Bones-and-Sepulchre were to
be endowed with the gift of speech, thus, and not otherwise, would
it discourse. Leon was a brave man, and I fear he was somewhat
sceptically given (he had been educated in a Papistical country),
but the habit of childhood prevailed, and he crossed himself
devoutly. He had met several women in his career. It was obvious
that his instinct had not deceived him, for the male voice broke
forth instantly in a towering passion.
The undergraduate, who had not understood the significance of the
woman's contribution, pricked up his ears at the change upon the
"There's going to be a free fight," he opined.
There was another retort from the woman, still calm but a little
"Hysterics?" asked Leon of his wife. "Is that the stage
"How should I know?" returned Elvira, somewhat tartly.
"Oh, woman, woman!" said Leon, beginning to open the guitar-case.
"It is one of the burdens of my life, Monsieur Stubbs; they support
each other; they always pretend there is no system; they say it's
nature. Even Madame Berthelini, who is a dramatic artist!"
"You are heartless, Leon," said Elvira; "that woman is in trouble."
"And the man, my angel?" inquired Berthelini, passing the ribbon of
his guitar. "And the man, M'AMOUR?"
"He is a man," she answered.
"You hear that?" said Leon to Stubbs. "It is not too late for you.
Mark the intonation. And now," he continued, "what are we to give
"Are you going to sing?" asked Stubbs.
"I am a troubadour," replied Leon. "I claim a welcome by and for
my art. If I were a banker could I do as much?"
"Well, you wouldn't need, you know," answered the undergraduate.
"Egad," said Leon, "but that's true. Elvira, that is true."
"Of course it is," she replied. "Did you not know it?"
"My dear," answered Leon impressively, "I know nothing but what is
agreeable. Even my knowledge of life is a work of art superiorly
composed. But what are we to give them? It should be something
Visions of "Let dogs delight" passed through the undergraduate's
mind; but it occurred to him that the poetry was English and that
he did not know the air. Hence he contributed no suggestion.
"Something about our houselessness," said Elvira.
"I have it," cried Leon. And he broke forth into a song of Pierre
"Savez-vous ou gite,
Mai, ce joli mois?"
Elvira joined in; so did Stubbs, with a good ear and voice, but an
imperfect acquaintance with the music. Leon and the guitar were
equal to the situation. The actor dispensed his throat-notes with
prodigality and enthusiasm; and, as he looked up to heaven in his
heroic way, tossing the black ringlets, it seemed to him that the
very stars contributed a dumb applause to his efforts, and the
universe lent him its silence for a chorus. That is one of the
best features of the heavenly bodies, that they belong to everybody
in particular; and a man like Leon, a chronic Endymion who managed
to get along without encouragement, is always the world's centre
for himself.
He alone - and it is to be noted, he was the worst singer of the
three - took the music seriously to heart, and judged the serenade
from a high artistic point of view. Elvira, on the other hand, was
preoccupied about their reception; and, as for Stubbs, he
considered the whole affair in the light of a broad joke.
"Know you the lair of May, the lovely month?" went the three voices
in the turnip-field.
The inhabitants were plainly fluttered; the light moved to and fro,
strengthening in one window, paling in another; and then the door
was thrown open, and a man in a blouse appeared on the threshold
carrying a lamp. He was a powerful young fellow, with bewildered
hair and beard, wearing his neck open; his blouse was stained with
oil-colours in a harlequinesque disorder; and there was something
rural in the droop and bagginess of his belted trousers.
From immediately behind him, and indeed over his shoulder, a
woman's face looked out into the darkness; it was pale and a little
weary, although still young; it wore a dwindling, disappearing
prettiness, soon to be quite gone, and the expression was both
gentle and sour, and reminded one faintly of the taste of certain
drugs. For all that, it was not a face to dislike; when the
prettiness had vanished, it seemed as if a certain pale beauty
might step in to take its place; and as both the mildness and the
asperity were characters of youth, it might be hoped that, with
years, both would merge into a constant, brave, and not unkindly
"What is all this?" cried the man.
Leon had his hat in his hand at once. He came forward with his
customary grace; it was a moment which would have earned him a
round of cheering on the stage. Elvira and Stubbs advanced behind
him, like a couple of Admetus's sheep following the god Apollo.
"Sir," said Leon, "the hour is unpardonably late, and our little
serenade has the air of an impertinence. Believe me, sir, it is an
appeal. Monsieur is an artist, I perceive. We are here three
artists benighted and without shelter, one a woman - a delicate
woman - in evening dress - in an interesting situation. This will
not fail to touch the woman's heart of Madame, whom I perceive
indistinctly behind Monsieur her husband, and whose face speaks
eloquently of a well-regulated mind. Ah! Monsieur, Madame - one
generous movement, and you make three people happy! Two or three
hours beside your fire - I ask it of Monsieur in the name of Art -
I ask it of Madame by the sanctity of womanhood."
The two, as by a tacit consent, drew back from the door.
"Come in," said the man.
"Entrez, Madame," said the woman.
The door opened directly upon the kitchen of the house, which was
to all appearance the only sitting-room. The furniture was both
plain and scanty; but there were one or two landscapes on the wall
handsomely framed, as if they had already visited the committeerooms
of an exhibition and been thence extruded. Leon walked up to
the pictures and represented the part of a connoisseur before each
in turn, with his usual dramatic insight and force. The master of
the house, as if irresistibly attracted, followed him from canvas
to canvas with the lamp. Elvira was led directly to the fire,
where she proceeded to warm herself, while Stubbs stood in the
middle of the floor and followed the proceedings of Leon with mild
astonishment in his eyes.
"You should see them by daylight," said the artist.
"I promise myself that pleasure," said Leon. "You possess, sir, if
you will permit me an observation, the art of composition to a T."
"You are very good," returned the other. "But should you not draw
nearer to the fire?"
"With all my heart," said Leon.
And the whole party was soon gathered at the table over a hasty and
not an elegant cold supper, washed down with the least of small
wines. Nobody liked the meal, but nobody complained; they put a
good face upon it, one and all, and made a great clattering of
knives and forks. To see Leon eating a single cold sausage was to
see a triumph; by the time he had done he had got through as much
pantomime as would have sufficed for a baron of beef, and he had
the relaxed expression of the over-eaten.
As Elvira had naturally taken a place by the side of Leon, and
Stubbs as naturally, although I believe unconsciously, by the side
of Elvira, the host and hostess were left together. Yet it was to
be noted that they never addressed a word to each other, nor so
much as suffered their eyes to meet. The interrupted skirmish
still survived in ill-feeling; and the instant the guests departed
it would break forth again as bitterly as ever. The talk wandered
from this to that subject - for with one accord the party had
declared it was too late to go to bed; but those two never relaxed
towards each other; Goneril and Regan in a sisterly tiff were not
more bent on enmity.
It chanced that Elvira was so much tired by all the little
excitements of the night, that for once she laid aside her company
manners, which were both easy and correct, and in the most natural
manner in the world leaned her head on Leon's shoulder. At the
same time, fatigue suggesting tenderness, she locked the fingers of
her right hand into those of her husband's left; and, half closing
her eyes, dozed off into a golden borderland between sleep and
waking. But all the time she was not aware of what was passing,
and saw the painter's wife studying her with looks between contempt
and envy.
It occurred to Leon that his constitution demanded the use of some
tobacco; and he undid his fingers from Elvira's in order to roll a
cigarette. It was gently done, and he took care that his
indulgence should in no other way disturb his wife's position. But
it seemed to catch the eye of the painter's wife with a special
significancy. She looked straight before her for an instant, and
then, with a swift and stealthy movement, took hold of her
husband's hand below the table. Alas! she might have spared
herself the dexterity. For the poor fellow was so overcome by this
caress that he stopped with his mouth open in the middle of a word,
and by the expression of his face plainly declared to all the
company that his thoughts had been diverted into softer channels.
If it had not been rather amiable, it would have been absurdly
droll. His wife at once withdrew her touch; but it was plain she
had to exert some force. Thereupon the young man coloured and
looked for a moment beautiful.
Leon and Elvira both observed the byplay, and a shock passed from
one to the other; for they were inveterate match-makers, especially
between those who were already married.
"I beg your pardon," said Leon suddenly. "I see no use in
pretending. Before we came in here we heard sounds indicating - if
I may so express myself - an imperfect harmony."
"Sir - " began the man.
But the woman was beforehand.
"It is quite true," she said. "I see no cause to be ashamed. If
my husband is mad I shall at least do my utmost to prevent the
consequences. Picture to yourself, Monsieur and Madame," she went
on, for she passed Stubbs over, "that this wretched person - a
dauber, an incompetent, not fit to be a sign-painter - receives
this morning an admirable offer from an uncle - an uncle of my own,
my mother's brother, and tenderly beloved - of a clerkship with
nearly a hundred and fifty pounds a year, and that he - picture to
yourself! - he refuses it! Why? For the sake of Art, he says.
Look at his art, I say - look at it! Is it fit to be seen? Ask
him - is it fit to be sold? And it is for this, Monsieur and
Madame, that he condemns me to the most deplorable existence,
without luxuries, without comforts, in a vile suburb of a country
town. O non!" she cried, "non - je ne me tairai pas - c'est plus
fort que moi! I take these gentlemen and this lady for judges - is
this kind? is it decent? is it manly? Do I not deserve better at
his hands after having married him and" - (a visible hitch) - "done
everything in the world to please him."
I doubt if there were ever a more embarrassed company at a table;
every one looked like a fool; and the husband like the biggest.
"The art of Monsieur, however," said Elvira, breaking the silence,
"is not wanting in distinction."
"It has this distinction," said the wife, "that nobody will buy
"I should have supposed a clerkship - " began Stubbs.
"Art is Art," swept in Leon. "I salute Art. It is the beautiful,
the divine; it is the spirit of the world, and the pride of life.
But - " And the actor paused.
"A clerkship - " began Stubbs.
"I'll tell you what it is," said the painter. "I am an artist, and
as this gentleman says, Art is this and the other; but of course,
if my wife is going to make my life a piece of perdition all day
long, I prefer to go and drown myself out of hand."
"Go!" said his wife. "I should like to see you!"
"I was going to say," resumed Stubbs, "that a fellow may be a clerk
and paint almost as much as he likes. I know a fellow in a bank
who makes capital water-colour sketches; he even sold one for
To both the women this seemed a plank of safety; each hopefully
interrogated the countenance of her lord; even Elvira, an artist
herself! - but indeed there must be something permanently
mercantile in the female nature. The two men exchanged a glance;
it was tragic; not otherwise might two philosophers salute, as at
the end of a laborious life each recognised that he was still a
mystery to his disciples.
Leon arose.
"Art is Art," he repeated sadly. "It is not water-colour sketches,
nor practising on a piano. It is a life to be lived."
"And in the meantime people starve!" observed the woman of the
house. "If that's a life, it is not one for me."
"I'll tell you what," burst forth Leon; "you, Madame, go into
another room and talk it over with my wife; and I'll stay here and
talk it over with your husband. It may come to nothing, but let's
"I am very willing," replied the young woman; and she proceeded to
light a candle. "This way if you please." And she led Elvira
upstairs into a bedroom. "The fact is," said she, sitting down,
"that my husband cannot paint."
"No more can mine act," replied Elvira.
"I should have thought he could," returned the other; "he seems
"He is so, and the best of men besides," said Elvira; "but he
cannot act."
"At least he is not a sheer humbug like mine; he can at least
"You mistake Leon," returned his wife warmly. "He does not even
pretend to sing; he has too fine a taste; he does so for a living.
And, believe me, neither of the men are humbugs. They are people
with a mission - which they cannot carry out."
"Humbug or not," replied the other, "you came very near passing the
night in the fields; and, for my part, I live in terror of
starvation. I should think it was a man's mission to think twice
about his wife. But it appears not. Nothing is their mission but
to play the fool. Oh!" she broke out, "is it not something dreary
to think of that man of mine? If he could only do it, who would
care? But no - not he - no more than I can!"
"Have you any children?" asked Elvira.
"No; but then I may."
"Children change so much," said Elvira, with a sigh.
And just then from the room below there flew up a sudden snapping
chord on the guitar; one followed after another; then the voice of
Leon joined in; and there was an air being played and sung that
stopped the speech of the two women. The wife of the painter stood
like a person transfixed; Elvira, looking into her eyes, could see
all manner of beautiful memories and kind thoughts that were
passing in and out of her soul with every note; it was a piece of
her youth that went before her; a green French plain, the smell of
apple-flowers, the far and shining ringlets of a river, and the
words and presence of love.
"Leon has hit the nail," thought Elvira to herself. "I wonder
The how was plain enough. Leon had asked the painter if there were
no air connected with courtship and pleasant times; and having
learnt what he wished, and allowed an interval to pass, he had
soared forth into
"O mon amante,
O mon desir,
Sachons cueillir
L'heure charmante!"
"Pardon me, Madame," said the painter's wife, "your husband sings
admirably well."
"He sings that with some feeling," replied Elvira, critically,
although she was a little moved herself, for the song cut both ways
in the upper chamber; "but it is as an actor and not as a
"Life is very sad," said the other; "it so wastes away under one's
"I have not found it so," replied Elvira. "I think the good parts
of it last and grow greater every day."
"Frankly, how would you advise me?"
"Frankly, I would let my husband do what he wished. He is
obviously a very loving painter; you have not yet tried him as a
clerk. And you know - if it were only as the possible father of
your children - it is as well to keep him at his best."
"He is an excellent fellow," said the wife.
They kept it up till sunrise with music and all manner of good
fellowship; and at sunrise, while the sky was still temperate and
clear, they separated on the threshold with a thousand excellent
wishes for each other's welfare. Castel-le-Gachis was beginning to
send up its smoke against the golden East; and the church bell was
ringing six.
"My guitar is a familiar spirit," said Leon, as he and Elvira took
the nearest way towards the inn, "it resuscitated a Commissary,
created an English tourist, and reconciled a man and wife."
Stubbs, on his part, went off into the morning with reflections of
his own.
"They are all mad," thought he, "all mad - but wonderfully decent."

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